If you are behind on your rent and at risk of eviction, you have a new life-line.
It's thanks to a new program called “Let’s Talk Housing” created by the Oklahoma Bar Association and groups like the Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation.
The idea behind it is to keep those at risk of eviction for non-payment of rent out of the courts by connecting them to rental assistance resources and legal help free of charge. At the same time, it helps landlords collect the back rent they need to pay their bills.
Accessing the program is as simple as dialing 2-1-1, according to John Williams, executive director of the Oklahoma Bar Association.
“You call 211 and they will put you in connection with an attorney who can help you through this process,” Williams said.
The program will rely mostly on attorneys trained as mediators, but other volunteer mediators will help as well.
Mediation can also be less stressful than going to court, according to Katie Dilks, executive director of the Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation.
“Mediation is a way to basically have a trained person facilitate a conversation that doesn't have a judge in the room," Dilks said. "It's just you and your landlord, or maybe your landlord’s representative, talking through what your resources are, what's available, and figuring out a solution that works for both of you.”
Williams told the 2 Works for You Problem Solvers the idea for Let’s Talk Housing sprang from the looming flood of eviction filings expected in August, because the CARES Act moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent has expired.
Many of those protected by that moratorium had never experienced being unable to pay their rent and they don’t know how or who to ask for help, according to Dilks.
“Call 211 is absolutely my first starting point for everyone. Call 211 or go to 211oklahoma.org and they have an online intake form," Dilks said. "You can do that if you don't want to call. You can do that in the middle of the night, right. You don't have to worry about calling at specific hours. And what's amazing about 211, is it will connect you with all of the resources you need. They will get you hooked up with rental assistance. They will get you connected with utility assistance. If you need it they will get you connected. If you've lost your job and you need job retraining for a new career, they can help connect you with those resources. And they can also connect you with legal aid and legal resources. If you are at the point where you've had an eviction filed against you, and you really should be talking with a lawyer. So, 211 is your one stop shop.”
Williams advises not to wait until you are evicted to reach out for help. He said, “Once you have an eviction judgment against you, it makes it very difficult in the future to get into housing. Some have called it the Scarlet E. But the truth is, is that landlords will either not lease to you, or want much higher deposit.”
So, Williams says if you, or someone you know, is at risk of eviction, the sooner you call, the sooner you can be connected with help that could keep you in your home.
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