The Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) released a report on the Moving to Work (MTW) demonstration and its Congressional requirement to “increase housing choices for low income families.” The study found that MTW public housing agencies (PHAs) had very different conceptions about what was meant by the term “housing mobility.” PRRAC criticizes HUD’s lack of leadership in defining the Congressional goal of increasing housing choice, and recommends that HUD provide clear guidance regarding housing choice and then hold MTW PHAs accountable for progress.
The study acknowledges that increasing housing choice may include preservation of affordable housing; however, PRRAC assesses MTW’s obligation to “increase housing choices for low income families” through the lens of “housing mobility.” The study focuses on the extent to which MTW PHAs increase housing choice by allocating funds to residential mobility programs. PRRAC asserts that MTW PHAs should more widely implement housing mobility programs that help households move beyond entrenched residential patterns and relocate to high-opportunity areas.
Congress declared that the purpose of the MTW demonstration is to give PHAs the flexibility to design and test various approaches for providing and administering housing assistance that:
- Reduce cost and achieve greater cost-effectiveness in federal expenditures.
- Give incentives to families to become economically self-sufficient.
- Increase housing choices for low income families.
PHAs selected for the MTW demonstration can seek waivers from most of the existing statutes and regulations governing the public housing and voucher programs. For example, they can seek HUD approval to merge public housing capital and operating funds with voucher funds. Waivers can harm residents if PHAs are allowed to divorce rents from incomes by charging rents that are unaffordable, serve higher income residents even though the lowest income households have the greatest need, or impose work requirements and time limits.
PRRAC writes that only some of the strategies cited by MTW PHAs as mobility efforts were directly connected to mobility, including:
- Mobility counseling, including providing information about areas with lower concentrations of poverty.
- Landlord engagement.
- Raising the voucher payment standard in certain areas.
- Allowing residents to pay more than 40% of their income for rent and utilities.
- Developing new public housing in neighborhoods without high concentrations of poverty.
Where housing mobility is accurately defined, MTW PHA strategies are explicitly focused on poverty deconcentration and have not measured the effects of these efforts on racially segregated communities.
The report found that a number of MTW PHAs mischaracterized as a mobility effort increases to residents’ employment status and savings. This conflates the statutory goals of promoting resident self-sufficiency with increasing housing choice. Other MTW PHAs pointed to redevelopment in high-poverty neighborhoods and enabling residents to stay in their neighborhoods, confusing choice with mobility.
The report concludes that HUD should provide MTW PHAs with guidance emphasizing mobility strategies which affirmatively further fair housing choice. PRRAC is encouraged by the definition in the 2012 Notice of Fund Availability (NOFA) that added four new MTW PHAs. That NOFA stated “an increase in housing choice is defined as providing more types and locations for assisted housing in areas where affordable housing may not be many, and may entail geographic mobility programs that result in residents moving to more racially or economically diverse neighborhoods.” While this is a laudable first step, the report urged HUD to revise the definition to be less equivocal and to extend it to all MTW PHAs.
Click here for the PRRAC study, Increasing Housing Choices: How Can the MTW Program Evolve to Achieve its Statutory Mandate?
Click here for HUD’s MTW website.