A January 2015 report by the Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reviews the Moving to Work (MTW) demonstration program at the 39 public housing agencies (PHAs) participating in the demonstration. The report catalogs policies implemented by MTW PHAs based on the three statutory goals of MTW: developing more cost-effective programs, moving families to economic self-sufficiency, and expanding housing options for residents. The researchers used annual reports available on HUD’s MTW website and conducted interviews with staff at each MTW agency. The Moving to Work Demonstration was prepared under contract with the Charlotte, NC Housing Authority, an MTW PHA.
Authorized in 1996, MTW provides participating PHAs with flexibility to deviate from most HUD statutory and regulatory requirements in both the public housing and housing voucher programs. Critics, including NLIHC, are concerned that even though MTW is a “demonstration program,” it has never undergone a rigorous evaluation.
The CURS report shows that one of the most frequently employed strategies to increase cost-effectiveness has been to change income recertification policies. Seven MTW PHAs moved from annual to triennial income verification for elderly or disabled tenants, while nine others adopted biennial income verification for these groups. Other PHAs simplified their methods for calculating tenant income, and thus the rents that tenants pay, by establishing various forms of standardized deductions for expenses such as medical care, childcare, and dependent care, eliminating the need to verify specific deductions.
MTW PHAs have also tried to increase cost-effectiveness by reforming utility and rent policies. Four have set standard utility allowances by bedroom size instead of using more complicated utility allowances based on the number of utilities and uses, how the utilities are metered, and the dwelling unit and/or household size. Thirteen MTW PHAs have raised minimum rents above the $50 maximum that non-MTW PHAs are restricted to under HUD guidelines. Seven others have begun to use rent payment tiers, as in Boulder, CO, where tiered rents are based on income and family size. Three MTW PHAs have adopted stepped subsidy programs that increase rents to pre-determined levels over time.
In service of the goal to increase resident self-sufficiency, eight MTW PHAs have instituted work requirements and two have established minimum earned income requirements. Five have implemented time restrictions to limit housing assistance for work-able residents to a certain number of years. Some MTW PHAs have developed partnerships with local agencies to deliver self-sufficiency services. For example, the Portland, OR PHA works with a local Workforce Investment Board to provide housing subsidies alongside employment services. Eight MTW PHAs have piloted training and vocational programs, some of which have involved installing computer labs and providing Wi-Fi for residents. Several MTW PHAs have partnered with local schools to co-locate educational facilities with public housing. A program in Tacoma, WA, called the College Housing Assistance Subsidy Program, provides a subsidy to homeless students at Tacoma Community College for three years.
To achieve the third MTW statutory goal to expand housing options for tenants, 21 MTW PHAs are using sponsor-based vouchers, with social service agencies taking on the administrative tasks associated with providing supportive housing. Some have used MTW flexibility to experiment with short-term transitional housing. Twelve MTW PHAs have set aside vouchers for vulnerable populations and eight have prioritized populations requiring supportive services on their waiting lists. The King County, WA PHA sets aside every third vacancy in its public housing for those in transitional housing.
While the CURS researchers identified several key areas where innovations are being tested, they were not able to measure if these new policies are meeting the goals of the MTW program. More rigorous evaluation is necessary to assess the ultimate impacts that the various policy changes are having on the tenants served.
The Moving to Work Demonstration is available at http://curs.unc.edu/2015/01/16/innovation-public-housing-moving-work-demonstration
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