Homelessness Research Yields Results for Statewide Program

Last summer, researchers at the University of Oklahoma began working with the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency to determine how to best deploy approximately $36 million to support unhoused and housing-insecure Oklahomans. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOME-ARP program, this investment must be allocated to areas of greatest impact based on data-driven research findings.

Bryce Lowery, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture, alongside David McLeod, Ph.D., and Christina Miller, Ph.D., in the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work, along with eight graduate student researchers, began collecting data, conducting interviews, mapping resources and hosting community meetings to determine the best focus for this funding.

“There’s been a strange disconnect between data and reality. The statistics show a decline in homelessness, but we’re seeing more unhoused people than ever before,” Lowery said. “I think a lot of this is due to the way the data is collected, which is usually done through point-in-time counts.”

According to the Oklahoma City point-in-time count, there were 1,339 homeless people on March 3, 2022. However, more than 14,000 people were served by programs that record data in the Homeless Alliance’s Homeless Management Information System.

In Oklahoma, as well as across the country, builders are constructing expensive houses, which are inaccessible to a large swath of low-income people. This is causing a major housing crisis for millions of Americans.

“We’re not building smaller homes anymore. It’s not like after WWII when we were building starter homes for returning servicemen and women,” Lowery said. “We don’t do that because there isn’t much profit, particularly given the cost of land in many communities.”

“We’re not building smaller homes anymore. It’s not like after WWII when we were building starter homes for returning servicemen and women,” Lowery said. “We don’t do that because there isn’t much profit, particularly given the cost of land in many communities.”

Based on the feedback Lowery’s team received from surveys and meetings, they are suggesting to the Department of Housing and Urban Development that most of the funding be used to construct new housing for low-income residents.

“I hope we’ll continue to build on the momentum of successful tiny housing projects, similar to those of the Pivot Project for youth in OKC and McKown Village in Norman,” Lowery said.

According to the proposed plan, 15% of the funding will be used to implement collaborative wrap-around services with additional money to assist Oklahomans who are struggling to pay their rent.

“In Oklahoma, 80% of the folks in our lowest income tier are paying more than 30% of their income for rent,” Lowery said. “Some of those people are teachers, and firefighters, and police officers. ‘Low-income’ in Oklahoma is not what most people think it is.”

Based on data collected during this research, Black and Native men are disproportionately represented in Oklahoma’s unhoused population. Often, these individuals have difficulty gaining access to affordable housing.

“Opportunities exist for increased engagement with local residents, policymakers and landlords.  But landlords often don’t want to work with these individuals or these agencies because they may not have a vested interest in doing so since many are just trying to make a profit,” Lowery said. “Landlords may need incentives that help them maintain properties, make repairs that enhance health and safety and accommodate individuals with disabilities. I hope that some of this money will be used to do more meaningful landlord engagement and to provide these additional wrap-around services.”

Housing and land available for construction in urban areas is typically more expensive than in rural areas. However, urban areas tend to have more unhoused and housing-insecure people than rural areas. According to Lowery, HUD’s plan will address this disparity.

“HUD has given Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton – the largest population centers in Oklahoma – a separate supplement on top of the $36 million statewide allotment. Because of this, we’re suggesting that the first 50% of funds be set aside for rural communities with the remaining 50% open to the remainder of the state,” Lowery said. “We received a lot of positive feedback for this idea because the rural counties don’t get that separate set-aside funding.”

Lowery’s team is also suggesting to the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency the need for urban-rural partnerships to enhance regional and cross-agency collaboration.

“In our interview sessions, we heard that Greyhound stations and libraries tend to be hubs of unhoused people,” he said. “And, although there are services in places like Lawton and southeast Oklahoma, a lot of people will take the bus to Oklahoma City for medical care, more intensive services and libraries that provide restrooms and public wi-fi.”

Housing Resources Map

To help individuals access the location of housing service agencies throughout Oklahoma, Lowery and two graduate students have developed an interactive map using Google Earth. Once finalized, the map will be hosted on OU’s website.

“Our plan is to make the map available for free on the internet as long as we can. But I think it makes sense to transition the map to a larger, more permanent agency so it can be maintained long-term,” Lowery said.

Learn more about the HOME American Rescue Plan (ARP) Allocation Plan (PDF) for the State of Oklahoma and read the Public Meeting Presentation (PDF).

Original article can be found on the OU Vice President for Research and Partnerships website here.

DeLozier, Josh. “Homelessness Research Yields Results for Statewide Program.” OU Vice President for Research and Partnerships, 10 Mar. 2023, http://www.ou.edu/research-norman/news-events/2023/homelessness-research-yields-results-for-statewide-program.html.