The report Innovations in the Moving to Work Demonstration, published recently by Abt Associates and sponsored by the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation, documents actions taken by Moving to Work (MTW) public housing authorities (PHAs) to meet the goals of the program.
MTW is a demonstration program, enacted by Congress in 1996, that allows select housing authorities to obtain exemptions from many regulations that apply to the public housing and housing voucher programs in order to test new initiatives and policies to increase the cost-effectiveness of these programs, increase housing choices for low income families, and encourage greater self-sufficiency of assisted housing residents.
The authors catalogue and describe the changes they found to be the most important and transformative in their effect on residents, the PHAs, and local communities. This report does not measure the results of the changes made by MTW PHAs, but Abt plans to develop a set of proposed performance indicators that will allow for a robust program evaluation.
Abt reviewed annual reports and plans from the 34 MTW PHAs that joined the program before 2013. They also conducted a web survey of the 34 agencies, completed 48 interviews with agency staff, and conducted site visits to five agencies. The report uses five categories to describe the changes undertaken by MTW agencies: increasing cost-effectiveness, increasing the quality and quantity of affordable housing, increasing self-sufficiency, promoting residential stability for targeted households, and expanding the geographic scope of assisted housing.
The most common way to increase cost-effectiveness has been to change the timing of income certifications for elderly or disabled households, with 32 of the 34 agencies making this change. Additionally, 14 agencies changed the timing of income recertification for all households from annually to every two or three years. Most agencies report that these and other cost-saving measures have allowed them to repurpose staff time to provide additional services to residents, cover the front-end costs of initiating new programs, or improve the monitoring of the quality of the agency’s work.
MTW PHAs are required to continue to assist “substantially the same number of low-income families” and to ensure that assisted housing meet housing quality standards. The Abt report finds that some agencies have been able to increase the quality and quantity of affordable housing. Agencies have accomplished this by lowering per-unit costs, investing in modernization and revitalization activities, preserving at-risk subsidized rental housing, using project-based vouchers to expand the supply of affordable housing, investing in other forms of affordable housing and adopting self-sufficiency or time limit policies that require existing residents to move out of assisted housing so the PHAs can serve other households in need.
King County Housing Authority (WA) has seen an increase of 1,138 affordable units since 2003. Just under half of those new units (529) can be attributed to the ability to combine the federal funding streams for the public housing and voucher programs into a flexible single fund, which has reduced the per-unit cost. The new units came in the form of additional housing vouchers and sponsor-based assistance for people who are homeless or have severe disabilities. The Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh (PA) has focused on the redevelopment of its public housing stock, which has resulted in a reduced number of traditional public housing units and the addition of new affordable units supported by tax credits and new market rate units.
MTW flexibilities have been used to both preserve subsidized rental housing and expand the supply of affordable housing through project-based vouchers. The Cambridge Housing Authority (MA) and the Massachusetts Department of Housing (DHDC) developed programs that allow residents to convert enhanced vouchers (vouchers provided when private landowners increase rents) into project-based vouchers, ensuring the affordability of specific units for up to 15 years. DHDC has preserved 464 affordable rental units through this process while the Cambridge Housing Authority has preserved 603 units.
One of the primary reasons for creating the MTW program was to encourage self-sufficiency through employment. Abt defines achieving self-sufficiency as increased earnings of work-able assisted households. To meet this goal, agencies have instituted various rent reforms and work requirements. A total of nine agencies have instituted higher minimum rents (greater than $100), and seven agencies have created flat rents within income bands so that rents only increase when a household’s income has increased to the next income band. Eleven agencies have instituted specific work requirements, such as the requirement to work at least 20 hours per week, and eight agencies have placed time limits on residents.
Some MTW agencies have also been able to expand service to targeted populations. Target populations typically include homeless or near homeless families, victims of domestic abuse, youth aging out of foster care, and ex-offenders. The most frequently targeted are people who are homeless. MTW agencies have set aside nearly 1,900 vouchers or public housing units across 11 communities, and more than 4,000 project based voucher across five communities for targeted populations.
One of the main conclusions from this report is that MTW agencies have adopted a wide range of practices to meet the goals and requirements of the program. The diversity of approaches and variations from agency to agency within one approach pose a serious challenge for a standardized process for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness and outcomes of these changes. However, Abt will develop a set of performance indicators that can be used to measure the performance of MTW programs across the categories described in this report. Once the indicators are selected, Abt will work with MTW agencies and HUD to collect data and compare outcomes of MTW and non-MTW agencies.
For access to the full report go to: http://www.pahrc.org/studies/Innovations_in_the_Moving_To_Work_Demonstration_Full_Report.pdf
More information about MTW is on page 131of NLIHC’s 2014 Advocates’ Guide, http://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/2014AG-131.pdf
HUD’s MTW webpage is at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/ph/mtw