The Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved a measure Tuesday that would help public housing authorities recoup financial losses caused by irresponsible tenants. Senate Bill 1019, by Sen. Earl Garrison, would allow housing authorities to garnish former tenants’ personal income tax refunds for any monies owed for rent or property damage.
“Tenants skipping out on their rent or damaging property is all too common behavior in public housing. There’s no reason that housing authorities, and ultimately taxpayers, should have to pay for these individuals’ irresponsibility,” said Garrison, D-Muskogee. “This bill would ensure that if an individual has a tax refund coming, but owes money to a housing authority that their bill will be paid before they receive any of the refund. This is just common sense.”
The proposed bill would allow public housing authorities to file claims with the Oklahoma Tax Commission to deduct debts owed to them from tenants’ personal income tax refunds.
Garrison pointed out that rent in public housing is based on one’s income so he believes there is no reason why these individuals should ever not be liable for paying their rent. State agencies, municipal courts and district courts currently collect debts, unpaid fines and costs of final judgments of at least $50 from personal income tax refunds through the Warrant Intercept Program.
“Unfortunately, we can’t make people be responsible, but as legislators we can protect businesses and entities like housing authorities and give them the tools necessary to ensure that others’ irresponsibility doesn’t hurt them financially,” said Garrison.
The Tulsa Housing Authority (THA) was allowed to temporarily participate in the Warrant Intercept Program in 2007. According to THA Executive Director Chea Redditt, the THA was able to recover a substantial amount in unpaid rent and damages.
“This bill will have an incredible financial impact on the state’s 107 housing authorities. We participated in the program for only eleven months and recovered $470,000,” said Redditt. “Not only would this benefit the housing authorities and ultimately taxpayers who pay for these kinds of programs, but it will ensure more families in need will have access to adequate well maintained housing and services that encourage independence.”
The THA currently has just over $5.5 million in outstanding debt due to unpaid rent and property damage. During 2010 and 2011, the Oklahoma City Housing Authority accrued a combined outstanding debt of $575,000.