A study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies, Work Requirements in Public Housing: Impacts on Tenant Employment and Evictions, reports that work requirements in the Charlotte Housing Authority’s (CHA) Moving to Work (MTW) demonstration program were associated with an increase in resident incomes. The authors also cite a number of concerns regarding public housing work requirements and caution against their widespread adoption at this time.
As part of its MTW demonstration, CHA established the requirement that work-able heads of households be employed at least 15 hours per week. Residents could participate in “work-related” activities, such as community service or job training, to meet the requirement. Case management to assist residents began in September of 2011 and sanctions against residents who did not meet the requirement or did not have an “improvement plan” to meet the requirement began in January 2014. Non-compliant households would lose half of their rental subsidy for six months and then all of their rental subsidy for six months, after which they would be evicted.
The study is the first evaluation of public housing work requirements. It examined employment outcomes for three groups of public housing residents: those who lived in a development subject to the MTW work requirement, those who lived in a development subject to the MTW work requirement but who had earlier chosen to receive Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) case management and supportive services, and those who lived in developments not subject to the work requirement.
The study tracked changes in the percentage of households paying the minimum rent of $75 after case management was implemented in September of 2011 and before and after the implementation of sanctions in January of 2014. A decline in the percentage would indicate an increase in households with improved incomes through employment or successful enrollment in benefit programs, such as those for individuals with disabilities. The authors also looked at changes in the number of hours worked and the number of evictions. The authors did not measure changes in income because they did not have access to income data after CHA switched to biennial income certifications in October 2013.
The study found no significant change in the percentage of residents paying minimum rent from September 2011 to December 2013, a period of time in which MTW residents were provided case management to help them meet the work requirement. A significant decline, however, was found after sanctions began in January 2014. The percentage of households paying the minimum rent declined by 17% from January 2014 to December 2014 among MTW households who had not previously participated in FSS and by 12% among MTW households who had previously participated in FSS. The authors assume that incomes for these households increased as a result of employment or successful enrollment in benefit programs. Either explanation could be attributed to successful supportive services. The percentage of households paying minimum rent increased by 4% among non-MTW households. Among working residents subject to the work requirement, the average number of hours worked (25 to 30 hours per week) did not change after sanctions began.
The authors note a number of concerns regarding public housing work requirements and the study’s limitations, and they do not support widespread adoption of public housing work requirements at this time. CHA was focused on helping residents comply with the work requirement, rather than evictions. As a result, aspects unique to the CHA may have accounted for the positive outcomes. For example, CHA delayed the enforcement of its work requirements for 15 months, from September 2012 until January 2014, because of high unemployment and staff turnover. CHA also temporarily exempted residents who might quality for disability status, giving them an opportunity to apply. They also provided case management and supportive services for two years prior to imposing sanctions and provided a two-month probationary period for residents to achieve compliance.
The authors refer to the substantial costs associated with case management and supportive services. It is unclear how most public housing authorities would bear these costs. Given this is the first evaluation of MTW work requirements, little is known about the level of services needed to achieve positive outcomes or how they should be delivered effectively. The authors caution that work requirements without effective supportive services could lead to higher eviction rates.
The study was funded by the Charlotte Housing Authority.
Work Requirements in Public Housing: Impacts on Tenant Employment and Evictions is available at http://bit.ly/1izRkhS