Case Study of Chicago’s Public Housing Work Requirements Finds No Link to Self-Sufficiency

An Urban Institute report, Public Housing Work Requirements: Case Study on the Chicago Housing Authority, used Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) administrative data and information from 24 interviews with CHA staff and residents to conduct an analysis of the CHA work requirement policy. Though work-participation and income increased among residents, these outcomes may also be attributable to overall economic recovery from the Great Recession and increases in Chicago’s minimum wage. Nearly all residents remained low-income, and the work requirement did not appear to have enabled a level of self-sufficiency that would allow people to forgo housing assistance.

CHA implemented work requirements in 2009, mandating residents work or pursue education for at least 20 hours per week. Work requirements apply to nondisabled residents between the ages of 18 and 54. Exemptions exist for households with children younger than 5 years of age and households struggling with personal hardships. The work-requirement policy includes case management and development services through CHA’s workforce services provider, FamilyWorks.

In 2017, 17% of CHA’s 30,364 residents were subject to the work-requirement policy. Of those, 54% met the requirement, 23% were in “safe harbor” status - a 90-day period during which residents must find employment or other qualifying activities to be considered compliant - and 17% were exempt. The remaining 320 residents, or 6% of those subject to the work requirement, were noncompliant.

Between 2010 and 2017, the share of households subject to the work requirement with no wage income declined from 51% to 38%. Household-level average annual income per person subject to work requirements rose by $1,144. The Urban Institute’s analysis, however, was not able to determine a causal relationship between the work-requirement policy and wage increases. The city and region experienced wage increases due to the economic recovery after the Great Recession and an increase in Chicago’s minimum wage. These factors may have influenced the increase in wages for CHA residents. The associated increase in total tenant payments to CHA was significant to the agency’s budget of over $1 billion.

None of CHA’s residents have been evicted solely for noncompliance with work requirements, but some evictions have occurred due to other lease violations. CHA staff view work requirements as a tool to expand employment and education and promote self-sufficiency and economic health within the community rather than as a tool for eviction.

Many residents see work requirements as a way to limit the amount of housing assistance they receive. Most residents subject to the work requirements already work or want to work. Residents listed lack of access to affordable and reliable childcare as a barrier to employment and job advancement. Residents also said the number of work hours required should vary based on individual circumstances, as many must navigate the difficulties of temporary, seasonal, or contractual work with minimal job security and limited access to benefits. Despite the work requirements, 98% of residents remained low-income, and no positive moves out of housing assistance appear to have occurred.

Public Housing Work Requirements: Case Study on the Chicago Housing Authority is available at: