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HUD Report: MTW Agencies Serving More Families, Preserving More Units

In a major report to Congress on the Moving to Work (MTW) program, HUD has found that  “most MTW agencies have actually served substantially more families than they would have been able to serve without MTW by streamlining operations and using accumulated funds to administer new assisted housing units.” The Department recommends that the program be extended, and the number of participating agencies be doubled, “to learn even more from this unique resource.” 

In Moving to Work: Interim Policy Applications and the Future of the Demonstration, HUD uses the wealth of descriptive data and outcome measures in agencies’ annual plans and reports to identify how the agencies have been so successful. CLPHA members feature prominently among the highlighted innovators. 

As the nation has lost public housing units overall, many MTW agencies have used their flexibility to preserve and revitalize their public housing stock.  The report notes that the most substantial changes to agencies’ portfolios has come from the ability to allocate funds for the development of new units, with streamlined development approval processes that “enable MTW PHAs to be more responsive to local market conditions and opportunities.”  It cites the massive restructuring of Chicago’s portfolio, through its Plan for Transformation, and the shift to providing housing in mixed-income communities in Atlanta.   

Several MTW agencies have completely transformed their portfolios by converting their subsidy streams, either in part or entirely, from public housing to voucher assistance.  Since 1998, MTW agencies shifted the share of their assistance being administered as vouchers by 24 percentage points, compared to a shift of only 10 percent for PHAs nationwide. Though this was in large part because it was easier for MTW agencies to make this kind of conversion, the report takes their choices as instructive. “MTW agencies have more flexibility in changing the composition of their housing stock than non-MTW PHAs, and the trend in administering a greater share of assistance as vouchers suggests that agencies may prefer this option.”

HUD says the ability to leverage funds allows more dollars to come into certain projects than would otherwise and can make it possible to revitalize projects with significant capital needs. 

The report found that MTW processes “definitively and significantly” reduced administrative burden on the agency, allowing for increased assistance.  For example, the Charlotte and Seattle Housing Authorities (CHA and SHA, respectively) used their MTW streamlined single-fund block grant to allow them to administer more units.  CHA has an ambitious goal of adding 100 affordable units to their stock for each year of MTW participation, which they exceeded in its first year. The report notes that “streamlining funding sources enabled SHA to respond appropriately to local needs and continue to serve families in need even as economic conditions fluctuated.”

Regulatory streamlining can also produce tremendous cost savings.  The report explains how the King County Housing Authority (KHCA) revamped its housing inspection system to save close to 800 staff hours in 2009 alone, along with reducing travel time and expense.

One of the principal goals of MTW was to test alternative rent structures.  HUD concludes that “streamlining the rent calculation process may help alleviate administrative burden on housing authorities and residents without adversely impacting residents,” particularly with regard to recertification requirements and income adjustments.  While reductions in administrative burden are “unambiguous and can be isolated to specific reforms,” conclusions about larger changes to the rent calculation process remain unclear.  The tiered rent structure used by Cambridge Housing Authority and adapted for use in other MTW jurisdictions is highlighted as an example of the “most promising” model. Findings from outside research firm Quadel found that the new policy was not making it tougher for residents to pay rent and that many showed significant increases in income. 

Many PHAs have used their flexibility to expand their services beyond traditional program administration, partnering with community organizations to provide service-enriched housing opportunities.  Oakland’s Maximizing Opportunities for Mothers to Succeed (MOMS) program, King County’s Sound Families Program and South King County Housing First Pilot are among those recognized as successful innovations in this realm.

The report also takes a broader look at the characteristics of agencies with successful MTW implementation, as well as obstacles to such success.  CLPHA member agencies Cambridge, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Antonio, Atlanta, and San Bernardino are all recognized as models of at least one of the following characteristics of successful agencies: resident, community, and stakeholder support; responsiveness to community needs; innovation and openness to change; and evaluation capacity.

Using lessons learns from the current agencies to inform the future of the program, it suggests that future agency selection be based on:

·         High performance in current reporting systems, as a predictor of ability to report effectively on MTW activities and outcomes;

·         Evaluation strength and capability, including agreement to design and implement an alternate rent strategy, ideally using random assignment;

·         Demonstrated innovation, using available programs to go beyond mere requirements to serve the local community;

·         Local support;

·         Identification of community needs; and

·         Balanced distribution in terms of PHA size and geography, though “while these characteristics can be useful in narrowing down a pool…the ultimate selection criteria should focus on agency capacity to administer existing programs and potential to contribute to MTW.”

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Housing Investments Dominique Blom, MTW Program Director Ivan Pour, and report co-author Emily Cadik spoke with industry groups about the report in a teleconference on Wednesday, September 15.  CLPHA staff expressed their appreciation for HUD’s recognition of the remarkable innovations MTW has made possible, and for their interest in applying lessons learned more broadly. 

CLPHA encouraged HUD to include current MTW agencies in its planned formal evaluation of the program, and to design the evaluation based on local markets and not solely national criteria. The formal survey will include systems for rigorous data collection and evaluations that were not in place when the program began.