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RIGHT TO COUNSEL: Study shows how legal help prevents Tulsa evictions

Legal Aid Services Eviction Study.png
Posted at 9:27 PM, Jun 27, 2024

TULSA, Okla. — A $2.4 million federal grant from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2022 allowed Oklahoma's two biggest counties a trial run with free attorneys to those battling eviction.

The Right to Counsel program spanned from August 2022 to June 5, 2024. It ran in both Oklahoma and Tulsa counties.

The program allowed tenants in five Tulsa County zip codes with high eviction rates to get a lawyer to argue their case from Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma for free, and then give feedback to a study.

Those zip codes are:

  • 74105
  • 74136
  • 74135
  • 74145
  • 74133

Speaking at The Day Center June 27, LASOK Executive Director Michael Giggins said the study showed most people facing eviction don't know their options.

"(Tenants) were afraid. And for most of them, they didn't even contest," Figgins said. "They just said, 'I need somewhere else to go.' And they would go to public facilities, maybe they come here... But they know now."

The study also unveiled big numbers when it comes to who gets hit hardest by rent trouble:

  • About half of all evictions were to Black renters
  • 77% of Black renters evicted are women
  • 51% of all people evicted are disabled
  • 27% get evicted from factors caused or made worse by a disability

"It's a realization this is a real civil, social problem that needs to be addressed," Figgins told 2 News.
LASOK Housing Advocacy Coordinator Eric Hallett said his colleagues made a real difference in the tenants' issues.

"We are able to help people ask for continuances, to try to get them more time," Hallett said. "We're able to help them negotiate outside of court."

The Juvenile Justice Center in downtown Tulsa is also the site of eviction court, hearing hundreds of cases each day. Out of the thousands of people legal aid helped here, half of them said their goal was simply not getting evicted, 94% of people with the free counsel succeeded in that.

"I'll tell you right now, if someone gets evicted and they end up on the street, that costs the city money," City of Tulsa Deputy Mayor Cassia Carr said.

Carr endorses the idea of funding more legal aide help to tenants at risk in the near future.

See also >>> Legislators, organizations working together to curb high eviction rates in Tulsa County

The study also found a return on investment of $2.63 for every dollar invested.

“That (statistic) alone, you’d think would be enough incentive to go ahead with this (for cities and counties),” Figgins said.

The full report and its summary can be found under the downloadable links here.

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