OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Business advocates from rural Oklahoma told state lawmakers Tuesday that a lack of affordable housing for the influx of energy and agricultural workers to their regions is stalling economic growth.
From Guymon in the Oklahoma Panhandle to Ponca City in the north of the state, significant permanent population growth and workforce housing demands are exceeding the housing supply, said Dr. Kay Decker, a professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Social Sciences at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva.
"There is an acute problem," Decker said during a legislative study on rural housing needs.
Vicki Ayers-McCune, the executive director of the Panhandle Regional Economic Development Coalition, said expansion of wind energy facilities in the far western Panhandle is expected to create hundreds of wind technician and related permanent jobs that will put new pressure on the region's supply of single-family homes and rental units.
"We're in a huge desperate need," Ayers-McCune said. "We're still way behind on housing."
Kay Stinson, vice president of human resources at Seaboard Foods, a pork producer and processor that is Guymon's largest employer, said housing for the plant's 3,300 workers is one of the company's biggest concerns. At least 550 Seaboard employees already commute from communities in Kansas or Texas because they can't find suitable housing in Oklahoma.
"The High Plains is a hopping place right now. Housing is an issue," Stinson said.
"We are sending payroll out of state," Decker said.
Rep. Mike Jackson, who requested the legislative study, told lawmakers he is looking for ways to encourage builders to construct affordable housing in rural Oklahoma.
A bill authored by Jackson to create an Oklahoma income tax credit similar to the federal housing tax credit passed the House earlier this year but was laid over in the Senate.
"We're trying to find ways to help," Jackson, R-Enid, told members of the study panel.
Decker said the state and local governments need to find ways to help developers build new single- and multi-family housing in rural Oklahoma communities. It costs more to develop housing in rural Oklahoma than it does in urban areas because of the lack of subcontractors, skilled labor and affordable materials.
Dennis Shockley, executive director of the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency, which administers the federal Affordable Tax Credit Program, said the creation of a similar state tax credit would enhance the federal credit and allow more projects to be funded in the state.
Shockley said his agency has 40 applications for affordable rental housing projects, but that it will be able to fund only eight or nine of them with the federal tax credits available to the state.
"Oklahoma needs affordable workforce housing and other rental housing," Shockley said. "A state credit is particularly important in rural Oklahoma, where rents are often unaffordable without additional subsidy."
Under Jackson's bill, the amount of state tax credits would equal the annual federal low-income housing tax credits available to Oklahoma for the same year. In 2012, $9.2 million in federal low-income housing tax credits was awarded for Oklahoma projects.