Deborah Jenkins Housing
Deborah Jenkins is the executive director of the Oklahoma Housing Finance Authority. (NonDoc)

Deborah Jenkins began working with the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency in 1983 and was named its executive director in 2017.

A graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma, Jenkins has served on the National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA) and the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO).

With affordable housing and homelessness drawing major public policy discussions on the national, state and local levels, NonDoc recently published a series of articles on the topic:

Last year, the Oklahoma Legislature created OHFA’s new Housing Stability Program, which aims to provide development funding for affordable single and multi-unit family housing. The statewide program is now taking applications from builders, who can receive zero-interest loans to develop projects and increase the state’s housing supply. The loans must be repaid within two years to avoid interest charges.

In this Q&A, Jenkins talks about the role the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency plays in helping to develop more affordable housing options, as well as the overall picture across the state.

Can you talk about the overall housing picture in the state when it comes to affordability and access for those who may be living on lower incomes?

The overall housing picture in Oklahoma when it comes to affordability and access for those living on lower incomes is a significant concern. According to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Oklahoma has a high percentage of households that are cost-burdened, meaning they spend a large portion of their income on housing expenses. This makes it difficult for low-income individuals and families to afford safe and stable housing. Access to affordable housing is particularly challenging in rural and less populated areas of the state, where there may be limited housing options and resources. The Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency plays a crucial role in addressing these challenges by providing financial assistance and resources to increase affordable housing opportunities.

While much of the discussion of housing insecurity centers on urban or metropolitan areas, what is the situation when it comes to access to housing in the less populated areas of the state and what are some of the challenges facing OHFA in getting those folks information they need?

In less populated areas of Oklahoma, access to housing can be even more limited compared to urban areas. It can be difficult to reach and inform residents in remote or rural communities about OHFA’s available housing programs and resources. OHFA works to overcome these challenges by partnering with local organizations, utilizing online platforms and conducting outreach efforts to ensure that individuals in all areas of the state have access to the information they need.

A Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency report in August found that there have been positive responses to OHFA programs, but that it lacks resources creating long wait times. What is your response to that report?

The very positive LOFT report found that OHFA is a very effective administrator of its programs and is well-regarded by its partner agencies. The report accurately acknowledges the increased demand for affordable housing programs and assistance in the state. While OHFA aims to provide prompt assistance to all applicants, the surge in demand can lead to longer wait times. OHFA recognizes this challenge and is actively seeking additional resources to address the wait-time concerns.

In their 2023 session, the Oklahoma Legislature created new programs to incentivize housing developments and home ownership. Tell us the origin of these ideas, your goals and the program mechanisms.

The Oklahoma Housing Stability Program is the largest single investment in housing development the state of Oklahoma has made to date. It originated because the Oklahoma Legislature recognized the urgent need to address Oklahoma’s housing shortage, especially in rural areas. The primary authors of the bill that established HSP, Rep. Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston), Sen. Chuck Hall (R-Perry) and Sen. Roger Thompson (R-Okemah), introduced the bill with the primary goal of increasing the supply of housing, supporting economic development, and helping individuals and families achieve home ownership. The HSP provides 0 percent financing for the construction of rental housing, 0 percent financing for the construction of single-family homes for purchase. It also offers grants of 5 percent of the total home loan amount to homebuyers who may utilize the funds for down payment and closing cost assistance when purchasing homes built with HSP funds. OHFA designed the financing piece of the HSP to be a perpetual fund so that Oklahoma’s housing shortage can be addressed on a long-term basis. I look forward to seeing the impact this program will have on Oklahoma communities.

A good politician recognizes people with deep experience in government and listens to what they would like to change within complicated systems. What should Congress reform within federal housing programs, and what could the Oklahoma Legislature do to help connect the unhoused with housing?

Congress should consider reforms within federal housing programs to address the gaps and challenges in providing affordable housing. This should include increasing the production and preservation of affordable rental housing by expanding and strengthening the low-income housing tax credit and tax-exempt multifamily housing bonds through enactment of the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, stimulating the development and rehabilitation of affordable for-sale housing with improvements to mortgage revenue bonds through enactment of the Affordable Housing Bond Enhancement Act, and reducing unnecessary and burdensome regulations in federal affordable housing policies and programs. The Oklahoma Legislature can play a role in connecting the unhoused with housing by supporting initiatives that provide resources for homeless prevention, supportive services and affordable housing development. This could involve allocating funding, creating partnerships with local organizations, and implementing policies that prioritize housing stability for all residents.

You’ve been involved with housing issues for quite some time. Can you talk about what initially inspired you?

My involvement with housing issues was initially inspired by witnessing the impact that safe and stable housing has on individuals and communities. I saw firsthand how access to affordable housing can provide a foundation for individuals to thrive and improve their overall well-being. The realization that housing is a fundamental need and a key determinant of health and success motivated me to work towards addressing the housing challenges faced by many individuals and families. Over time, my passion for housing advocacy grew, and I became dedicated to finding solutions and creating opportunities for affordable housing for all.