Helping Public Housing Residents Find and Keep Jobs

A Guide for Practitioners Based on the Jobs-Plus Demonstration

By Susan Blank, Donna Wharton-Fields

This guide contains practical advice on implementing a program model — known as the Jobs-Plus Community Revitalization Initiative for Public Housing Families (Jobs-Plus) — aimed at helping public housing residents find and keep jobs. The most rigorously evaluated employment initiative ever tried in public housing, Jobs-Plus has shown strong potential for improving the employment outlooks of low-income workers and job-seekers. The guide draws on the experiences of six programs based in public housing projects across the country that took part in MDRC’s national Jobs-Plus demonstration.

As implemented during the demonstration, Jobs-Plus combined three components: (1) employment-related services; (2) financial incentives, in the form of changes to rent rules to help make work pay, sometimes supplemented with efforts to raise residents’ awareness of other available work incentives such as the Earned Income Tax Credit; and (3) community support for work, which consisted of meaningful opportunities for public housing residents to promote work among their neighbors, especially by participating in efforts to recruit other residents to Jobs-Plus and publicize its services.

Research results show that when all three components are implemented properly, Jobs-Plus can make a substantial difference in residents’ earnings outcomes. The large positive earnings effects that were generated in the demonstration were observed for housing developments in very different cities and for diverse racial and ethnic groups.

While the test occurred in public housing, its results may also be relevant to other subsidized housing programs. Furthermore, since the expectation is that the program will be planned, managed, and overseen not by public housing authorities alone but by partnerships that bring these agencies together with welfare and workforce agencies and resident leaders, the Jobs-Plus experience offers lessons on how different safety-net systems can collaborate with one another and with residents of low-income communities to promote economic self-sufficiency.

In addition to presenting lessons on forming effective partnerships, this guide covers various organizational issues, including aspects of developing a Jobs-Plus governance structure, staffing, predicting costs and securing funding, planning for the use of space, and marketing services to residents. The guide also offers in-depth programming advice on how to implement each of the three Jobs-Plus components — employment services, financial incentives to work, and community support for work — and discusses how best to operate the program in multiethnic settings. The guide aims to provide practical advice to help practitioners adapt Jobs-Plus to new settings and situations.

Blank, Susan and Donna Wharton-Fields. 2008. Helping Public Housing Residents Find and Keep Jobs. New York: MDRC.