Lessons From the Second Generation of Jobs-Plus Programs
Jobs-Plus is an employment program designed to raise and sustain the earnings and employment levels of public housing residents. It was first implemented from 1998 to 2003 as a demonstration program in six public housing developments. After the program was proven to be effective, it was replicated beginning in 2011 in San Antonio, Texas, and the Bronx, New York, with a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Social Innovation Fund (SIF). The experiences of the initial 5-year demonstration and the replicated programs are analyzed in the HUD-sponsored report “The Second Generation of Jobs-Plus Programs: Implementation Lessons from San Antonio and the Bronx,” published in November 2016. These findings can help provide important lessons to housing agencies as they implement HUD’s Jobs-Plus Pilot Program, which the agency launched in fiscal year 2015.
Program Description and Study Focus
Unlike traditional employment programs, the Jobs-Plus model avoids strict eligibility criteria, targeting its services to all working-age public housing residents. Service providers implement this “saturation” strategy with the help of an interagency governance, accountability, and support partnership, or “Collaborative,” which includes the local housing authority, resident representatives, local welfare department, and local workforce development agency.
The model has three components: employment services, which are usually offered at onsite job centers; rent-based financial incentives that modify automatic rent hikes triggered by increased earnings; and strategies known as Community Support for Work (CSW), which connect residents to Jobs-Plus services by developing and strengthening resident networks related to employment.
The SIF Jobs-Plus program launched in 2011 through the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA), which delivered Jobs-Plus services onsite at two public housing complexes, and BronxWorks, a nonprofit that delivered Jobs-Plus services offsite to residents of three New York City Housing Authority developments. The former organization uses the Jobs-Plus Collaborative as a governance body, the latter uses it primarily as a vehicle for interagency coordination.
The SIF Jobs-Plus program operated in an economic, institutional, and organizational environment that differed from that of the original demonstration. These differences include a weaker job market, an increase in project scale, a shorter implementation period, and the availability of only one rent-based financial incentive at both implementation sites, the federal Earned Income Disregard (EID). The New York City program also added formal financial counseling. The study focused on how the SIF Jobs-Plus providers implemented the program model, specifically exploring three major questions:
- Did the providers successfully implement each of the three Jobs-Plus program components?
- What factors allowed providers to adopt the JobsPlus model most effectively and adapt it to local needs?
- How much did the program cost to implement?
To answer these questions, researchers collected participation data and expenditure information from administrative records; observed provider practices; and conducted interviews with consenting public housing residents, service providers, and other stakeholders and outside observers. The report also compared and contrasted the experiences of the two providers in San Antonio and the Bronx, suggesting how different types of operators might manage implementation.
SAHA and BronxWorks encountered challenges in integrating and coordinating the three components of Jobs-Plus. Despite these challenges, both providers achieved program “saturation,” delivering employment services to “substantial” proportions of residents — 72 percent of targeted residents in San Antonio and 58 percent in the Bronx — by the beginning of the third year of the five-year initiative. Although each provider brought different strengths to the model, they generally placed residents in entry-level, low-wage work and did not have extensive ties to organizations offering career advancement training, which made helping residents who were already employed difficult. BronxWorks successfully integrated financial counseling into its program, which became an important tool for engaging and retaining Jobs-Plus members before and after they found work.
The SIF Jobs-Plus program employed the federal EID financial incentive. EID, which is limited to 2 years and decreases in value after the first year, requires housing providers in designated HUD programs to disregard the portion of residents’ income resulting from increased earnings, so that a tenant’s rent, which is based on 30 percent of earnings, does not immediately rise. During early implementation, EID take up was very low (1% of residents in the Bronx and 3% in San Antonio) despite the providers’ extensive efforts to promote its use. Residents responded best when EID was explained simply, was associated with a message about economic opportunity, and was directed toward stable households.
In implementing the CSW component of Jobs-Plus, both SAHA and BronxWorks relied primarily on “community coaches” and experimented with a number of strategies that evolved and improved over time. Researchers found that building relationships with property managers was important for outreach and that CSW is dependent on the other two components of the model.
Researchers found that neither the community-based organization nor the housing authority appeared to have a clear advantage in implementing the program. Instead, three factors facilitated the adoption and adaptation of the Jobs-Plus model: good internal collaboration and the inclusion of front-line staff members in planning; a balance between providing concrete assistance and allowing local leaders the ability to innovate; and the opportunity to learn from other providers implementing Jobs-Plus. Researchers noted that the Jobs-Plus Collaborative was an important learning support mechanism, although only the Bronx program fully realized the concept.
In the program’s third year, when post-launch costs reached a steady state, Jobs-Plus was calculated to have a gross cost of $672 per household per year in the Bronx and $503 in San Antonio. Costs likely would have been higher had residents made greater use of EID. Cost estimates are useful to federal planners and local providers considering the adoption of Jobs-Plus programs.
Based on their findings, the study’s authors make a number of recommendations for housing agencies launching new Jobs-Plus programs. They suggest that employment services should focus on enhancing the quality and number of job placements, creating training opportunities for employed residents, using data to track participant engagement and facilitate staff communication, and providing participants with financial advice along with employment services. The authors also recommend treating EID as a component of annual tenant recertification and rent calculation rather than promoting it upfront as a work incentive. EID should also be explained in simple terms. For the CSW component, the authors emphasize the need to allocate sufficient resources for community coach training and support, target residents with specific messages and outreach strategies, build close relationships with property managers, and create multiple opportunities for residents to interact with the program. Finally, the authors recommend providing extensive and detailed technical assistance and training for housing agency and community organization personnel when required; allowing grantees some choice in technical assistance; focusing on a limited number of outcomes that emphasize saturation goals; and establishing a Jobs-Plus Collaborative that provides access to workforce, housing, and training agencies as well as oversight and accountability.