Residents of the nation's public housing developments have long suffered disproportionately from perverse disincentives to work. Under traditional public housing policies, their rents were automatically ratcheted up in lock step with any income increase they realized from earnings, even in a low-wage job. Work often promised them little financial gain.
Public housing rules that set rents as a fixed percentage of residents' incomes have long been thought to discourage residents from working. The Jobs-Plus Community Revitalization Initiative for Public Housing Families, a national demonstration project operating in six cities, is testing ways to increase employment among public housing residents by combining changes in rent rules and other financial work incentives with employment and training services and social supports for work.
This policy brief is one in a continuing series that offers emerging insights from the Jobs-Plus demonstration. Sponsored by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, The Rockefeller Foundation, and other public and private funders listed at the end of this document, Jobs-Plus is an intensive, “place-based” initiative for increasing employment among public housing residents. MDRC is managing the demonstration and evaluating the program.
To combat joblessness and poverty in low-income communities, multiple organizations must work together with local residents. But productive collaboration on such complex issues is notoriously difficult to create and sustain, partly because partners often have different priorities and agendas. Learning from real-world experiences is critical if this strategy is to work.
The national Jobs-Plus demonstration represents an ambitious attempt to transform low-work, high-welfare public housing developments into high-work, low-welfare communities. Relying on three program components - employment-related activities and services, enhanced financial incentives to work, and community-based support for work - the program aims to create steady employment for a substantial majority of all working-age, nondisabled development residents.
Public housing residents are commonly thought to be harder to employ than other low-income working-age populations, but detailed evidence on their actual employment experiences and difficulties is scarce. The dearth of information can hinder efforts by policymakers and administrators to reduce the high rates of poverty, joblessness, and related social problems found in many public housing developments across the country.
This paper begins to fill the information gap by capitalizing on the unique opportunity provided by the Jobs-Plus Community Revitalization Initiative for Public Housing Families, an ambitious research demonstration project that aims to improve residents’ employment status.
Resident mobility can potentially influence the success of place-based self-sufficiency initiatives. Yet, relatively little is known about these patterns, especially among residents of public housing. This dearth of information makes it difficult to implement and evaluate programs that seek to address the self-sufficiency barriers of residents of low-income communities.
Is it feasible to engage large numbers of public housing residents when employment services are offered right in their own housing developments? This is one of the many questions that the Jobs-Plus Community Revitalization Initiative for Public Housing Families (“Jobs-Plus” for short) is trying to answer. Since 1998, Jobs-Plus has been under way in six cities in an attempt to raise the employment and earnings of residents of “low-work, high-welfare” public housing developments.
Is it possible for an employment program to engage public housing residents in services and activities by tapping the social networks that exist in their developments? The Jobs-Plus Community Revitalization Initiative for Public Housing (“Jobs-Plus” for short), a multifaceted effort to use rent incentives, job counseling, and other inducements to help increase residents’ employment and earnings, attempted this approach.