A study published in Cityscape, “Work Requirements and Well-Being in Public Housing” by Kirstin Frescoln, Mai Thi Nguyen, William Rohe, and Michael Webb, examines how work requirements imposed by the Charlotte Housing Authority (CHA) impacted the well-being of work-able public housing residents. The study suggests that work requirements combined with supportive services increased household incomes, but at the expense of food security and other components of well-being.
Thirty-nine housing authorities have the flexibility to experiment with new policies under HUD’s Moving to Work (MTW) demonstration. CHA is one of eight MTW sites experimenting with work requirements. CHA’s work policy requires households with at least one nondisabled adult between the ages of 18 and 61 at five of its 15 nonelderly public housing sites to maintain a minimum of 15 hours of employment per week. “Work-able” households are permitted to complete pre-approved work-related activities, such as job searches, training, and some educational activities, in lieu of employment for up to 12 months. Households are offered voluntary supportive services to help them comply with the policy. Non-compliant households face a series of escalating sanctions ending with eviction.
To study the impact of work requirements, the researchers compared residents in the five CHA public housing sites subject to work requirements (treatment group) to the residents living the ten CHA public housing sites without work requirements (comparison group). Data were collected from survey responses, CHA administrative data, and longitudinal interviews to assess different dimensions of residents’ well-being with a focus on changes in income and self-rated health, as well as qualitative experiences with the work requirement.
The median household income increased between 2011 and 2014 for both the treatment and comparison groups, with a $3,286 increase for the treatment group and a $1,392 increase for the comparison group. The prevalence of food insecurity, however, increased among work-requirement households from 60% to 76%. Food insecurity declined slightly for the comparison group. Interviews with residents subjected to the work requirement revealed that their higher incomes were not sufficient to make up for the resulting reduction in food stamps.
Residents interviewed indicated that their jobs did not pay sufficient wages to live independently without public assistance, though many also reported feeling less financial pressure for their families. Some residents viewed work-requirements and case management as helpful in pursuing self-sufficiency, while others felt pushed into low-wage work at the expense of longer-term educational opportunities.
Anxiety increased among households in the treatment group between 2010 and 2014, while it slightly decreased for the comparison group. Physical and emotional health also appeared to decline for residents in the treatment group. The sample size, however, was too small to establish causality. The authors observed that the income gains realized by households were likely not sufficient to yield the health and mental health benefits associated with wage employment in other research. The authors pointed out that a single parent with one child who is subject to the 15-hour work requirement would earn only one dollar too much to qualify for full Medicaid insurance.
Given the limitations of the study and the lack of other research, the researchers caution against expanding work requirements without further study. The researchers recommend that HUD require any housing authorities participating in MTW to collect additional data on health and well-being as part of any experimentation with work requirements. Significant attention must be paid to how work requirements interact with other forms of assistance like food stamps and Medicaid due to the significant health challenges experienced by public housing residents. The researchers also suggest that other MTW agencies imposing work requirements start with a low threshold for work hours, provide voluntary case management, and permit work-related activities, including the completion of education and job training, in lieu of wage employment.
Download the "Work Requirements and Well-Being in Public Housing" study at: https://bit.ly/2nsyNIx