THD Environmental Health Services and City of Tulsa Working in Neighborhoods Inventory and Referral Process

State: OK Type: Promising Practice Year: 2018

Environmental Health Services (EHS) at the TCCHD is responsible for housing inspections in the City of Tulsa. EHS inspects existing structures to ensure minimum building standards and enforces city and county codes that must be in place if the structure is occupied or used. These standards, outlined in the City of Tulsa Revised Ordinances Title 55 (ICC INTERNATIONAL PROPERTY MAINTENANCE CODE, 2003 EDITION) include requirements for sanitation, maintenance, electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems. TCCHD shares the responsibility of enforcing nuisance complaints with the City of Tulsa. Tulsa has numerous aging neighborhoods and an eleven-year discrepancy in life expectancy depending on where people live in our community, specifically in North Tulsa. The community wants to grow while reducing crime rates and improving overall health outcomes. Blight is an issue connected in various ways to one's health, also known as the social determinants of health. Goals and objectives of the proposed practice: The overall goals are to: define blight, collect data on blighted properties in Tulsa, and address blighted properties through code enforcement. TCCHD is working with a subcommittee to address blighted properties through code enforcement. The objective is to create a coalition of community partners to identify what gaps exist and how best to utilize resources to improve housing conditions in Tulsa, Oklahoma. EHS will collect accurate data to be shared by all partners, create effective strategies, deploy resources, and then follow-up and assess the program. How was the practice implemented/activities: This project started in July of 2017. THD created a Housing Initiative Task Force, and then merged with a similar committee at the City of Tulsa called BlightStat. In five short months, the group has created a more efficient inspection process and inspection form. This process will help EHS and the City of Tulsa respond to complaints more quickly, and to be more productive with our funds to abate properties. This group meets monthly with several community partners Results/outcomes: EHS will soon implement our new inspection form and process, then track outcomes. Public health impact: We have not reached a point in the program to be able to measure the impact on the community. EHS expects that there will be a reduction in complaint backlogs and more properties abated with similar funding amounts. To better understand EHS services please access our email site:
Inadequate and unsafe housing conditions contribute to health problems including injuries, poor childhood development, and spread of infectious and chronic diseases. Safe, healthy, and adequate housing is a public health need. Housing that protects individuals from harmful exposures provides them the stability, security, and control needed to thrive and experience more positive health outcomes. Neighborhoods with maintained houses reflect a favorable impression of a healthy community and personal health. Tulsa has several agencies currently addressing blight in their own departments. These agencies were working separately without much information on what the other agencies are responsible for in the community. Tulsa has a growing problem of abandoned properties, some due to clouded titles, and predator landlords that create unsafe neighborhoods. The rise in crime in these areas adds to the cycle of lack of affordable housing for our citizens. This program will bring City of Tulsa, TCCHD, Law enforcement, and numerous other neighborhood outreach programs together to improve our community. What is the target population? This grant proposal will have a broad reach and include cities that are entirely or partially within Tulsa County including Bixby, Broken Arrow, Collinsville, Owasso, Sand Springs, Skiatook, and Tulsa. Some of these communities have not adopted a housing code. TCCHD hopes to build a relationship with their towns and show the benefits of adopting the code and improving their built environment. The most densely populated county in the state of Oklahoma, Tulsa County has a population of 629,598 residents and continues rapid development in Tulsa's surrounding suburbs. Tulsa leaders have joined forces to strategize for sustainable health improvement plans. Cross-sector collaborations and partnerships have developed into substantial human and financial resources for health improvement. Tulsa has sophisticated and generous donors such as the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the Tulsa Community Foundation, two of the largest foundations in the nation. We have created collective impact by fostering quality partnerships and investing in and developing relationships in communities that were historically unjust to provide an equal opportunity for health. Poverty is a significant driver of disease. Estimated poverty rates for Tulsa County is 15.9% (American Community Survey, 2016). As in many communities, poverty is racially disparate: approximately 32% of the African American population and 27% of the Hispanic population lived below the poverty line, which was almost three times higher than the percentage of the White population living in poverty (11.4%) (American Community Survey, 2016). Tulsa has not seen a citywide collaboration over multiple agencies to address public health issues before. This new partnership creates an open dialog between departments and combines our limited resources. Tulsa is building healthier more equitable communities and strengthening the integration of health systems. Improved population health, well-being, and equity are a direct result of implementing programs and policies, which increase healthy behaviors, improve clinical care, expand social and economic opportunity, and restore the built environment.
The overall goals are to define blight, collect data on blighted properties in Tulsa, and address blighted properties through code enforcement. TCCHD is working with a subcommittee to address blighted properties through code enforcement, improve communication with other community partners, increase affordable housing, and decrease poor housing stock. The objective is to create a coalition of community partners so that EHS can identify what gaps exist and how to best utilize resources to improve housing conditions in the community. We will collect accurate data to be shared by all partners, create effective strategies, deploy resources, and then follow-up and assess the program. EHS collaborates with Legal Aid of Oklahoma to provide a class to the public called Housing 101. This course discusses the housing code, Fair Housing Act, and the Landlord Tenant Act. Landlords, property managers, tenants, and non-profit agencies attend the class to become more familiar with their rights and responsibilities under Oklahoma law. We prepared an online version of the class to post on our website so that people, generally renters, can access the information without having to take off work. Three task forces were created to address different issues related to our built environment. The first group is an internal agency collaboration focused on improving processes and brainstorming ways to improve the program and outreach. The second group was formed to bring in community partners involved in housing outreach and local governments. This group is focused on combining resources to address issues in our community. The last group will be included in lobbying for a change to local and state laws to improve housing on a statewide level. TCCHD invited several local government officials and community stakeholders to participate in the task force. Non-profit agencies on the task force are familiar with vulnerable populations in the community. Their experience and contact with the public will help EHS inform citizens about the services offered throughout TCCHD. Tulsa Housing Authority aids in advertising our Housing 101. Since EHS enforces the same code as the City of Tulsa, this partnership will improve efficiency in abatement of noncompliant properties. Habitat for Humanity, OU-Tulsa Health Clinic, and Community Service Council are other organizations that have helped our department compile data and locate where resources are most needed.
The BlightStat and Housing Task Force is a new program that has not yet collected data for evaluation. This program has been developed and is currently a pilot test. The program is designed to allow for the public to pinpoint a property for further assessment under the definition of blight. The OU-Tulsa Health Clinic maps EHS complaint data to find correlations between health detriments and environmental conditions in the home.
The Housing Task Force has learned that there is a need to find innovative ways to educate tenants on healthy homes and their rights in Oklahoma. EHS also needs to continue to use technology to communicate with the public.
Colleague in my LHD