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Expanding Housing Choices for HUD-Assisted Families



Release Date: 
March 1996
Posted Date:   
March 30, 1996



II. IMPLEMENTATION OF THE MOVING TO OPPORTUNITY DEMONSTRATION


In accordance with Section 152, HUD issued a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) in August 1993 for the competitive selection of cities for participation in MTO. PHAs from sixteen cities responded to this NOFA (Appendix A lists the eligible cities and those that applied for MTO). Secretary Cisneros reviewed and approved the selection of five MTO sites on March 17, 1994. The selected demonstration sites are Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City.

In late May of 1994, a three-day, HUD-sponsored training conference brought the newly selected MTO agency staff together in Washington, D.C. to learn the operating rules of the demonstration. Site operations began in Baltimore just a month later, and by the end of February 1995 all five MTO sites were operational. To assist in the implementation of the MTO demonstration, HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) entered into a contractual arrangement with Abt Associates, a nationally recognized research, evaluation, and technical assistance firm. Abt provides technical assistance to all the demonstration sites to ensure accurate and consistent program operations, including random assignment, data collection, and long-term tracking.

Each MTO site began its operations with outreach activities, identifying and notifying eligible families in the public and assisted housing developments targeted for the demonstration. Following meetings with residents, the PHAs received and processed applications from families who expressed an interest in participating in MTO. Each PHA created an MTO waiting list of eligible families and then began to call families from the list to come in for enrollment briefings.

As part of the enrollment process, and in order to address the long-term evaluation issues raised by Congress, a baseline survey is administered to all families who enter the MTO demonstration program. Participating families also sign a consent form indicating their willingness to cooperate with the ongoing data collection and evaluation. The baseline survey collects information on each family's employment status, income, education, and neighborhood conditions.

Once the enrollment process is completed and families are determined eligible for MTO, each site randomly assigns families to one of the three demonstration sub-groups using specially prepared computer software installed at each PHA. Families selected for the control group receive no Section 8 rental assistance but retain their current project-based assistance. The Section 8 comparison group receives the standard, geographically unrestricted Section 8 certificate or voucher and the standard briefing and search assistance provided by the PHA. Families assigned to the MTO experimental group are sent to the non-profit counseling agency at their site for more intensive support and assistance.

These non-profit organizations perform, at a minimum, four essential functions. First, they assist the local PHA in the selection and assignment of experimental families who will move to low-poverty areas. Second, they recruit owners of rental property in low-poverty areas to make units available to MTO families. Third, the non-profits assist MTO families in finding appropriate rental units in low-poverty areas. And finally, they provide short-term counseling assistance to help families adjust to their new housing locations.

Recruiting owners and managers of rental properties in low-poverty areas is one of the most critical tasks performed by the non-profit organizations in MTO. Landlord outreach and recruitment are conducted in person, by telephone, in writing, at meetings of landlord associations, and using special brochures. Recruitment of landlords is an ongoing process used to identify housing units that families in the MTO experimental group might wish to rent in low-poverty communities.

After an MTO family has been certified as eligible for participation in the demonstration, and has received a Section 8 rental certificate or voucher, the non-profit helps the family find a suitable unit in a low-poverty area. At group briefings for families assigned to the MTO experimental group, the non-profits inform families about their responsibilities as private market tenants and about the responsibilities and expectations of private landlords. They describe the advantages and disadvantages of specific low-poverty communities throughout the metropolitan area, provide maps showing low-poverty neighborhoods, and teach effective housing search strategies.

To maximize MTO families' chances of success in searching for housing, the non-profits also conduct credit checks. Because most rental property owners in low-poverty tracts require credit checks, it makes sense to identify credit problems ahead of time, and suggest ways in which families can correct credit problems before applying for a rental unit. Landlords often accept the credit checks performed in advance by the non-profits, thereby saving MTO families time and sometimes money.

In addition, staff of the non-profit organizations visit MTO families in their homes to observe first-hand the condition of their current units, and to provide individual counseling on relocation to a low-poverty area, tailored to the needs of the individual family. In the process of individual counseling, the non-profit staff usually informs families about public transportation routes, public school systems, higher education and training opportunities for parents, hospital and public health clinic locations, major industrial and retail employment facilities, and other potential job opportunities.

The MTO non-profits teach demonstration participants how to look for housing independently, but also provide more active assistance in the housing search, depending on the families' needs and the success of landlord recruitment efforts. A non-profit may show a small number of units in low-poverty tracts to groups of MTO families, or accompany individual families to units that seem well-matched to their needs and objectives. In transporting families to see specific units, staff of the non-profits typically point out relevant community features and facilities, and introduce the family to landlords. The non-profits also assist MTO families in leasing-up units and moving into the low-poverty neighborhoods.

Following the move, the non-profits are required to contact MTO families within 90 days and offer any additional counseling or referrals they may need to make a successful adjustment to the new environment. And MTO families are assured of the ongoing availability of a supportive services counselor to help them if problems relating to their move should arise. Non-profit staff also contact the owner or manager of the family's new unit, notifying him or her of the availability of a supportive services counselor to help with any problems that may arise in the family's adjustment to the new environment.

At each step in the MTO demonstration process, PHAs and non-profits are required to keep systematic records to document how they implement the demonstration and whom they assist. Standard forms for data collection have been developed and agency personnel have been trained in their use so that the information will be comparable across the sites. Program-level forms record information about landlord outreach, participant progress, and the costs of MTO operations. Participant-level forms record information about the families at the time they enroll in MTO and about the counseling contacts between the non-profit staff and the MTO experimental group families.

Over the next eight to ten years, HUD will assess the impacts of the MTO demonstration by comparing the experiences of families randomly assigned to the three treatment groups. Record-keeping and data collection forms will enable policy researchers to measure and analyze long-term changes in the lives of MTO families, including their social well-being, employment, education, and housing and neighborhood conditions.

The pace of MTO implementation has varied significantly across the five demonstration sites.

Exhibit 1 presents the number of families placed in the MTO experimental group and the Section 8 comparison group, as of February 28, 1996. Altogether, almost half (47.9 percent) of the MTO experimental families and over one fourth (28.9 percent) of the comparison group families had been placed at that time. All five sites are expected to reach their placement targets by the end of 1996. Section IV of this report provides more detail about the progress of implementation at each demonstration site.

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