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Report goes inside Oklahoma eviction courtrooms

Posted at 10:00 PM, Sep 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-20 07:56:15-04

TULSA, Okla. — The Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation says Oklahoma is 70,000 units short of affordable housing.

Now, Katie Dilks, executive director of the organization, is hoping to find a solution making evictions the last option and not the first.

Adam Hines interned with ATJ this past summer. He sat in more than 500 eviction court cases and said it was an eye-opening experience. He wrote a detailed report about his observations. From geographic inequalities, to lack of due process, Hines said the system and the people who run it are overburdened.

“Seeing the eviction docket in Tulsa last summer really shook me," Adam Hines, law student with the University of Oklahoma said.

As a law student, with a passion for equity in the justice system, Hines said when it comes to fair housing, he found very little, usable data to help inform his studies. So he took it upon himself to gather the data.

“I knew that if you wanted to make real policy suggestions at the state level, you’d need better data statewide and I wanted to find a way to get to it," Hines said.

He spent this summer traveling to eight different counties across the state, sitting in more than 510 different eviction court hearings.

“What was so devastating, is you watch someone gather themselves, get up, get their papers together, and walk as confidently as they can to walk to the podium to talk to the judge and then the judge looks at them, asks them two questions. Procession is granted. And they try to protest and they’re like no…you don’t get any more time," Hines said.

Hines said the anger, frustration, and hurt among many tenants was evident in their face. As they walked out of the court room without being heard.

“One of the foundational core parts of due process is the opportunity to be heard. To have a judge, an impartial decision maker listen to you and feel heard and just the act of feeling heard is so essential to people's perception of legitimacy of the court room and if people don’t feel they’re being heard, they’re not going to believe in these institutions anymore," Hines said.

Hines said judges are not often given much of a choice in the process either. He said he observed some judges handle massive caseloads, sometimes of hundreds of cases a day.

“The root of the problem is the lack of funding and judicial resources that starts with the state legislature," Hines said.

The report dives into multiple issues, including why evictions happen more often in some places and within some communities, how large corporate landlords can get different outcomes than small landlords, and why the law may be applied inconsistently depending on the county. It also offers some solutions.

You can read the report here.

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