Earnings Increase Community-Wide with Public Housing Intervention

Earnings Increase Community-Wide with Public Housing Intervention
James Riccio
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How can public housing residents advance economically despite high rates of unemployment and generational poverty? It takes a comprehensive program of rental rule changes, on-site employment services, and peer support, according to MDRC's evaluation of the Jobs-Plus Community Revitalization Initiative for Public Housing Families (Jobs-Plus). Jobs-Plus is a welfare-to-work program, which was implemented as a demonstration in the early 2000s through a partnership of HUD, MDRC, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Jobs-Plus operates under a community-focused theory of change. By saturating a public housing development in services and support to encourage workforce participation (and removing programmatic disincentives to work), the program aims to help all of a development's working-age non-disabled residents increase their earnings and employment. Due to evidence of its efficacy, HUD is funding ten new sites to offer the program in 2015, with potential further expansion in future HUD budgets.

The demonstration program was initially tested at six public housing developments, but only fully implemented at three sites (located in  Dayton, Los Angeles, and St. Paul). Full implementation lasted four years, and researchers continued to track outcomes for three years after the program ended.

Major findings:

  • After four years, residents in the targeted developments earned an average of 14% (or $1,141) more per year than residents in the comparison developments.
  • After seven years, the earnings of those in targeted developments were 16% (or $1,300) higher annually than those in comparison developments, suggesting that Jobs-Plus can change the financial trajectory of a public housing community.
  • The program was connected with earnings increases among a diversity of residents, including African-American single mothers, Latino men, and Southeast Asians (who were often immigrants).
  • For Latino men in Los Angeles and Southeast Asians in St. Paul, Jobs-Plus had beneficial effects on employment rates as well as earnings.