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Unanswered Questions Surround Work Requirements for Federal Housing Aid

Rowhouses in Baltimore, Maryland

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Connecting state and local government leaders

New research highlights a lack of "systematic evaluation."

There are basic, unanswered questions about the effectiveness and mechanics of work requirement programs for recipients of federally backed housing aid, according to research released last week.

Urban Institute researchers said in a brief published Friday that there's limited information about local housing agencies' use of work requirements, and about which models are most effective for meeting stated program goals, what the requirements cost to implement and how they are apt to affect low-income households.

Housing assistance might include public housing, or what are known as Housing Choice Vouchers, which help people who are poor, older, or disabled afford housing on the private market.

The brief looks specifically at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's "Moving to Work" demonstration program.

Moving to Work dates back to the 1990s and allows public housing agencies to design and test strategies "that use Federal dollars more efficiently, help residents find employment and become self-sufficient, and increase housing choices for low-income families," according to a description on HUD's website.

According to the Urban Institute report, HUD has designated 39 of the roughly 3,000 housing authorities in the U.S. as Moving to Work agencies and in 2015 nine of those agencies had work requirement programs in place.

The Urban Institute's review of the nine agencies' programs found that they often require the head of a household and other adult members of a household, who are receiving housing assistance, to work full or part-time—unless they're disabled, elderly, or a full-time student.

But the report notes: "Although some MTW agencies have been implementing work requirement policies for more than a decade, no systematic evaluation or attempt has been made to analyze what the impact has been on residents’ work engagement, incomes, or housing stability or on agency administrative costs."

"It is not possible to determine whether and how work requirements affect assisted tenants based on available data from the nine agencies’ 2015 annual reports to HUD," the brief later adds.

The brief also says the researchers' estimates suggest that perhaps less than 10 percent of housing assistance recipients would be subject to work requirements, as they're currently designed.

The researchers point out that HUD is planning to expand the Moving to Work program. And they propose a possible research agenda to study the work requirements in greater depth.

A HUD spokesperson did not immediately respond on Tuesday to an emailed request for comment about some of the issues raised in the brief. A full copy of it can be found here.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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