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Fate of more than 2,000 Oklahoma families facing eviction rests in Governor’s hands

governor stitt

(Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt)

By Deon Osborne, Senior Writer

Despite calls for action from the ACLU, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has so far chosen not to join other states in extending an eviction moratorium.

Conservative rallies to end the Covid-19 lockdown for cash-strapped families pushed Oklahoma to be an early reopen state, but as thousands of families face eviction this week, the governor has so far made no plans to prevent the crisis.

More than 2,000 evictions have been filed across the state between March 15 and May 20, according to Open Justice Oklahoma’s court tracker. The city of Tulsa was already ranked 11th highest in eviction rates before the pandemic caused shuttered businesses and record high unemployment rates.

The ACLU of Oklahoma sent a letter to the Governor and Chief Justice Gurich of the State Supreme Court on April 30, asking them to halt evictions until June 30.

The letter referenced a study which found that landlords are twice as likely to evict black tenants as white tenants.

Scott Carter is Professor of Economics at the University of Tulsa, specializing in Income Distribution Theory. He said the pandemic has exposed inequities throughout the country.

“This is especially true for African Americans, who will indeed have a disproportionate eviction rate because of the double burden of class exploitation and endemic racism that has been shockingly exacerbated in the last few years,” Carter said.

While evictions had been postponed in Oklahoma starting in mid-March due to the pandemic, the state ended it’s moratorium May 1 and courts across the state reopened May 15.

Unlike other states that have seen rent strikes shake up eviction proceedings, Carter said Oklahomans aren’t prepared to make that happen right now.

“Oklahoma has a history of organizing,” Carter said. “However, we also live in a country and a part of the country that is used to accepting being told what to do, especially by the wealthy and powerful.”

The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office announced officers will forcibly remove families from their homes as early as May 26.

Giving families a few extra days, a Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office employee confirmed Wednesday, May 20 that its officers will begin forcibly evicting families “tentatively June 1, if not very soon after.”

Meanwhile, states such as Michigan, Florida, New York and California have all extended their moratorium on evictions until June 1 or later. And the Federal Government is extending its suspension on foreclosures and evictions at government-sponsored housing to at least June 30.

Sheri T. Dickerson is leader of Black Lives Matter Oklahoma. She said this crisis compounds the losses African Americans suffered under the Great Recession a decade earlier.

“Most economic decline and depression always affects black communities more,” Dickerson said. “More families will have to combine or merge together in living arrangements to survive.”

Sheri and Carter both said governments should provide monthly stimulus and more economic resources for struggling families rather than ending the minimum level of support that the one-time stimulus and temporary eviction moratorium offered.

But with further government assistance in doubt, Sheri said communities should turn to mutual aid moving forward.

“Promoting community and individual gardens, food collectives or co-ops. Neighborhood Security and mutual aid,” Dickerson said.

In the meantime, the more than 2,000 low-income working Oklahoma families must wait for a sign of their fate: through either the Governor signing an extended moratorium or an officer knocking on their door.

The Office of Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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