The Outlook for Usable Research|
A recurring theme in The Home Front is the relative dearth of usable program evaluation results that would shed more light either on the efficacy of welfare to work programs for families in assisted housing or provide guidance on the use of housing as an incentive within self-sufficiency programs. Amy Bogdon of the Fannie Mae Foundation and James Riccio of the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation look at five demonstration projects sponsored by HUDProject Self-Sufficiency (PSS), Operation Bootstrap, Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS), Jobs Plus, and Moving to Opportunity (MTO). The projects combine housing subsidies with job placement and training and other supportive services for residents of assisted housing.
In PSS, Operation Bootstrap, and FSS, employment levels rose for participants. Nonetheless, Bogdon points out, these demonstrations did not select participants randomly, and had no control groups, and local program parameters varied. These factors, she believes, make it impossible to evaluate these programs or generalize about their impact.
Jobs Plus, initiated in 1997, encourages residents and staff of selected public housing developments to form broad community-building efforts with neighbors, community service organizations, local welfare departments, and local employers. MTO, which also started in 1997, uses Section 8 certificates and other supports to place subsidized families in neighborhoods with low poverty rates. Jobs Plus and MTO have built-in evaluation designs and may produce more generalizable insights on program design in the future.
Although Newman concludes that the answers to the most fundamental questions about the interactions of housing and welfare policy remain largely unanswered, her final assessment is optimistic. "We have the research tools to study these questions … practitioners and researchers agree on the[m]." She believes that if appropriate support is forthcoming, researchers can make substantial headway on our understanding of these connected issues.