Public housing developments are among the most economically-challenged communities in the United States. In fact, many public housing residents face substantial barriers to employment and advancement. Jobs Plus, an initiative of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), aims to help address this problem by providing employment services, offering earned income disregards (earnings increases are not counted when determining rent) and building community support for work. To date, HUD has awarded approximately $62 million to 24 public housing agencies (PHA) to implement Jobs Plus.

The first cohort awarded four-year grants from HUD were the following nine PHAs: Boston, Massachusetts; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; Roanoke, Virginia; St. Louis, Missouri; and Syracuse, New York. The housing developments targeted by each of these agencies range in size from 240 to more than 1,500 work-able residents, with employment rates ranging from 21 to 49 percent.

HUD selected a team of three organizations to evaluate the implementation and short-term impacts of this cohort of Jobs Plus programs: MDRC; the National Initiative on Mixed Income Communities (Case Western Reserve University); and the Center for Urban and Regional Studies (UNC-Chapel Hill).

A new interim report, co-authored by CURS researchers Bill Rohe, Kirstin Frescoln and Michael Webb, examines the launch of Jobs Plus and the progress made getting staff in place, building partnerships, delivering services and structuring their program. The report is from an evaluation of HUD’s Job Plus Pilot Program, led by MDRC, which helped develop and evaluated the original Jobs Plus demonstration launched in the late 1990s.

The findings in this first report are meant to characterize the early implementation experiences of the programs. The report draws on site visits and interviews that the research team conducted between August and October 2016. Programs had been in operation for roughly one year at the time of the site visits. This report also includes quantitative data reported to HUD by the sites from April 2015 through September 2016.

Key findings include:

  • Developing Partnerships: All sites had begun to develop partnerships to implement Jobs Plus; however, they varied in terms of the types of partners involved, their roles in delivering Jobs Plus services, the value that they brought to the program, the formality of the partnerships and the level of ongoing engagement of the partner organizations.
  • Delivery of Employment Services: Employment services were more generic and not especially tailored to meet the specific needs and skills of individual participants. In addition, although staff are interested in preparing participants for career-path jobs, they have found this goal difficult to achieve.
  • Jobs Plus Earned Income Disregard (JPEID) Implementation: The JPEID has served to generate resident interest in Jobs Plus and getting residents connected to program services. However, many sites found it challenging to implement this component.
  • Community Support for Work (CSW): Grantees launched various types of discrete CSW activities, but most expressed a need for more clarity about what counts as CSW. As intended, some sites are beginning to take a “universal” approach to implementing CSW, one that requires the commitment and engagement of all staff, residents and partners (and not the sole responsibility of particular Jobs Plus staff members).

Technical Assistance: Overall, site program staff voiced the need for more frequent and concrete guidance and clearer program standards to guide their implementation of Jobs Plus.
Based on these findings, the following recommendations were made:

  • Sites might benefit from deeper, earlier and more frequent technical assistance that is focused squarely on helping to strengthen implementation quality.
  • To meet HUD’s goal that Jobs Plus be demand-driven—that is, informed and shaped by employers’ needs for individuals with certain skills to fill available jobs—sites ultimately need input from employers and business-oriented organizations that can help them understand which industries and occupations are in local demand. Although some sites receive this kind of input and information, many do not, and there is room for improvement at all sites.
  • Sites should strive to minimize residents’ confusion about enrolling in the JPEID. Sites should ensure that they are ready to implement JPEID and that property managers both understand and endorse it. They might also identify messaging about work incentives that appeal to those who are working and those who are not.
  • HUD, local Jobs Plus staffs and other stakeholders could enhance implementation by working collaboratively to define CSW efforts and coming to clear agreement on how to operationalize and measure outcomes effectively.

This report was prepared for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research by: Betsy L. Tessler, Nandita Verma , Jonathan Bigelow, Victoria Quiroz-Becerra (MDRC) ; Kirstin P. Frescoln, William M. Rohe , Michael D. Webb (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); and Amy T. Khare, Mark L. Joseph , Emily K. Miller (Case Western Reserve University).

Story by the Center for Urban and Regional Studies and department of city of regional planning.

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