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Public Housing Agencies and Developments in HUD's Jobs Plus Pilot Program Implementation and Impact Evaluation
Public Housing Agencies and Developments in HUD’s Jobs Plus Pilot Program Implementation and Impact Evaluation

Many households in public housing face major impediments to achieving self-sufficiency, including poor work histories, limited education and significant personal and other challenges. To address these issues, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and MDRC conceived Jobs Plus in the mid-1990s. The Jobs Plus model encourages economic mobility for public housing residents through three components:

  • Employment-related services, like employment assessments, on-site job fairs and referrals to job-training opportunities.
  • Rent-based work incentives, so that earnings increases do not trigger rent increases (as they do for most public housing residents).
  • Building a culture of work in communities through events and recognition.

Two facets make Jobs Plus unique. First, the program is place-based and targeted to a specific public housing development. This means that services are easy for residents to access and that program staff can get to know residents better. Second, Jobs Plus targets everyone who lives at the development, not just those who elect to participate in the program.

The original Jobs Plus demonstration (1998–2003) saw the program boost annual earnings in developments where the model was fully implemented. Jobs Plus was later implemented at the local level in both New York City and San Antonio, in part with funding from the Social Innovation Fund.

In 2015, Congress authorized $24 million to replicate Jobs Plus at nine public housing sites, and later provided funding to bring Jobs Plus to a total of 31 public housing developments. Jobs Plus grants are provided to local public housing authorities, who are provided roughly $3 million to operate the program for four years.

The Jobs Plus Implementation Evaluation

In 2015, HUD commissioned an implementation study to document the early operational experiences of the first nine public housing agencies to receive Jobs Plus funding: Boston, Massachusetts; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland (Cuyahoga County), Ohio; Houston, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; Roanoke, Virginia; St. Louis, Missouri; and Syracuse, New York. These sites represent a wide diversity in terms of size, site demographics, location and other program features, offering an opportunity to understand the program’s implementation in different contexts.

The implementation study’s recently-released final report, co-authored by CURS researchers Michael Webb, Bill Rohe and Atticus Jaramillo, focuses on the implementation experiences of these sites through early 2018—roughly two-and-a-half years into their four-year grants. It examines how program operations evolved over time, the types of implementation issues that continued to be challenging and the strategies devised to address these challenges. In addition, the report also looks at site leaders’ early thinking about program sustainability, given that their four-year, nonrenewable Jobs Plus grants would end in 2019.

“This study describes the lessons learned and the challenges experienced by the first nine public housing agencies that were awarded Jobs Plus grants beginning in April 2015,” said Seth D. Appleton, assistant secretary for policy development and research at HUD. “Observations from this evaluation have already influenced how the program is administered and new guidance for current and future grantees is being developed.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Program Saturation: Two years into their grants, an average of 61 percent of the work-able residents had enrolled in Jobs Plus and completed an employment assessment—the closest measure of whether a resident had at least had an introduction or some exposure to the Jobs Plus offerings. Enrollment rates ranged from about 25 percent in Boston to 92 percent in Chicago.
  • Staffing and Partnerships: By the time of the final implementation report, most sites had solved problems related to starting up the program and were focused on improving management and program implementation.
  • Employment Services: While the Jobs Plus grants had envisioned strong relationships between housing authorities and local workforce agencies (called Workforce Development Boards, or WDBs), these relationships were less robust than envisioned. Many job training courses offered through WDBs had long waiting lists, and Jobs Plus participants struggled to meet pre-requisites required for enrollment in some courses.
  • Technical Assistance: All sites expressed the need for clear and concrete technical assistance. Some of their technical assistance needs were particular to the implementation of, and the rules around, the Jobs Plus rent incentive. Sites also looked for more guidance about strategies for work components of the model.

The report makes the following recommendations to strengthen implementation of Jobs Plus:

  • Employment Services: Sites should deepen ties with both local employers, especially small ones who may be more willing to hire Jobs Plus participants who lack formal qualifications or have extensive work histories. The report also recommends that HUD should work with the Department of Labor (which funds WDBs) to ensure that WDBs are active partners in Jobs Plus.
  • Jobs Plus Rent Incentive: Sites should ensure that their messaging for the rent incentive is both accurate and consistent. HUD and sites should also ensure that data-tracking tools for the rent incentive are available at program launch.
  • Creating a Culture of Work: HUD should provide concrete direction to sites about how to operationalize this component of the Jobs Plus model. Sites should also dedicate additional time early in their grants on this component of the model, especially in empowering residents.
Jobs Plus at the New York City Housing Authority
Jobs Plus at the New York City Housing Authority

The report also highlights how Jobs Plus staff at the nine sites were thinking about sustaining their programs after the four-year grant expires. While staff at all sites were hopeful about continuing some aspects of Jobs Plus, they had not made concrete plans regarding how to do so. Many hoped to leverage either existing resources or other HUD programs such as Family Self-Sufficiency to continue providing employment services and/or a type of rent incentive. Staff were less sure about how to continue efforts to foster a culture of work at the developments.

The report was prepared for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research by: Nandita Verma, Betsy L. Tessler, David H. Greenberg, Edith Yang, Sophia Sutcliffe (MDRC); Michael D. Webb, William M. Rohe, Atticus Jaramillo (Center for Urban and Regional Studies, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); and Amy Khare, Emily Miller, Mark Joseph (National Initiative on Mixed-Income Communities, Case Western Reserve University).

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