The Norman City Council approved a $100,000 contract to develop a strategic plan against homelessness, a plan for the rebuilding of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house and an allocation of $140,000 to clean up remaining debris from the October ice storm during a Tuesday meeting.
The strategic plan on homelessness follows the failed General Obligation Norman 2020 bond package, which included a proposition to devote $5 million toward constructing one or more built solutions assisting individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Michelle Evans, Norman’s homeless program coordinator, said the failed bond sparked conversation on the need to allow outside parties to assess the city’s homelessness programs before allocating substantial capital funding.
The city sent a request for professional expertise and received three proposals from outside entities by Sept. 25. A selection committee consisting of Norman’s Planning Department staff and representatives from ADG, Inc. chose to contract with HomeBase, a nonprofit based in San Francisco dedicated to curbing homelessness. Evans said the group recently helped complete a similar plan to address homelessness in Tulsa in 2019.
The project aims to form three to four focus groups with individuals who are or were homeless and two additional focus groups with providers and stakeholders, as well as provide recommendations for built solutions, develop strategies and create a final report. HomeBase will also collaborate with Norman’s Continuum of Care, which includes over 40 nonprofits, faith-based and governmental entities working throughout Norman and Cleveland County.
Evans said the total compensation of $100,000 for this study would come from two different funding sources. $87,413 would derive from the capital project, and the remaining $12,587 would come from the planning grant.
Ward 6 Council member Elizabeth Foreman said she was concerned about this proposal, as she recalled a study and focus group that met for months two years ago which “nothing came from.” Evans addressed Foreman’s hesitance and spoke to how the study prepared the council for the plan on the docket.
“It was very much smaller in stature and was an immediate response to, at the time, say what are our resources (and) how can we better provide them to the community,” Evans said. “It provided a lot of insight to not only the city of Norman but also the Continuum of Care and our partners to (find) where our gaps are.”
Ward 1 Council member Kate Bierman said she received feedback from residents concerned about the project’s focus on providing “housing first.”
“Yes, that is the ultimate goal, but I think what they are concerned about … (is) they want to ensure that immediate emergency needs are also met,” Bierman said. “It seems like they’re worried that putting money into the study basket takes money out of serving immediate needs.”
Immediate needs, Evans said, will always be in the community and are ones the city tries to fulfill daily. She said although the city experienced immense progress last year by funding a warming shelter, she knew they could do better.
“When the General Obligation Bond did not pass, we thought (about) what can we do that may not answer that immediate need, because our service providers are going to continue to go out there and try to get them into a shelter,” Evans said. “This will help long-term, and eventually it will help these urgent needs. … If we don’t understand as a community what we need to offer long term sustainable housing, we will always have this need here.”
Bierman said she hopes to see the dozens of agencies involved in the project amplify each other's efforts instead of duplicating them.
Ward 2 Council member Joe Carter said he was disappointed to see the project be referred to as a study, as he thought there should be an emphasis on the language of “action plan,” and felt Norman residents prefer clearer wordings. This comment comes after an Oklahoma judge ruled the Norman City Council violated the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act during its June 16 meeting where it voted to remove over $800,000 from a proposed Norman Police Department budget increase because the language of the public notice was “deceptively worded.”
Norman’s City Manager Darrel Pyle addressed the meaning behind the language and the necessity of seeking assistance from outside parties.
“Half of that study is definitely going to be focusing on the housing component, (asking) what are we missing and how do we best approach it,” Pyle said. “We want to take advantage of some independent analysis of how we should approach the affordable housing piece of this puzzle, and we need more, fast.”
The council vote was 8-1, with Foreman in opposition. Before the approval, Mayor Breea Clark added, “the council must take study out of their vocabulary.”
“This is a strategic plan — it is how to address it,” Clark said. “We know that people are homeless in Norman, and we're trying to solve it. And we're trying to come up with a plan that will help us to be the best stewards of taxpayer dollars as we continue down that road.”
Todd Crow, an OU Delta Tau Delta alumnus and the lead architect for the rebuilding of the fraternity house after it burned down in May, proposed his site plan for the new house.
The site plan was approved on property located at 1320 College Ave. Crow said the new house will be laid out similarly while maintaining the trees lining Chautauqua Ave. and adding the required sidewalk.
Ward 7 Council member Stephen Holman expressed his approval of the plan.
“I am excited to see this presented,” Holman said. “This is the only piece along Chautauqua that’s missing a sidewalk. … If you drive by there, you can see the path that people have worn into the ground. … As a resident of the neighborhood, I am definitely looking forward to this sidewalk completion above all.”
The council also approved the distribution of $140,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds toward ice storm debris removal in private gated subdivisions. Pyle said Ward 5 Council member Michael Nash noticed a gap in service in these neighborhoods.
“We asked city staff to take a peek at the number of gated communities in the city of Norman, and I believe that number is 11,” Pyle said. “We did a rough calculation of the number of single-family residences within the gated community and came up with a cost estimate of $140,000 to provide the same level of service inside the gated communities as were provided outside.”
Clark said the city needs to clean up debris in these neighborhoods and noted the council will not always have money from the federal government to facilitate the project. The council amended the original resolution — which would have funded the project with CARES Act money — with a unanimous vote.
The meeting ended with the introduction of Norman's new Chief Deputy of Diversity and Equity Officer Cindy Allen. Allen’s position is a brand new function of Norman’s government and will allow public notices and information to be released in Spanish.
“I've lived (in Norman) for 20 years, and every time I drive into Norman on Flood Ave., I see the sign that says we are an inclusive community," Allen said. “Even before this opportunity came through, it just always filled me because I believe in that. … I look forward to bringing my experience in diversity and inclusion that I gained at a global enterprise into our community."