Moving to Work Program: Why Your Housing Authority Should Apply
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Only 39 public housing authorities are part of the federal Moving to Work (MTW) program, which is competitive but innovative and well worth an agency’s efforts.
The MTW program is a demonstration pilot created and operated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It has three primary goals: create more affordable housing, develop more efficient housing programs and help low-income residents become self-sufficient.
The benefits of having the prestigious MTW status are numerous, if you can qualify among more than 3,300 PHAs in the United States. Here’s why and how your agency should apply for this designation.
Benefits of MTW Status
Most PHAs get their funding from the federal government in buckets, with little flexibility on how the money is spent. This rigidity can make it difficult when budgets are not fully funded, or special ideas and circumstances arise.
But MTW agencies can receive money in block grants, allowing them to use the funds interchangeably. For example, a PHA can choose to use dollars from the Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8) to cover staffing costs or shortfalls in the Public Housing Operating Subsidy.
Another major benefit of being an MTW agency is the flexibility to change the way programs are operated. MTW agencies can ignore parts of the Housing Act of 1937 and other federal regulations.
This flexibility allows them to run their public housing or voucher programs in different ways. Innovation, process improvement, money savings and better resident results can result from this flexibility.
There are many examples of innovation within the MTW program, according to a December 2014 study by consulting firm Abt Associates, such as:
- The Tacoma Housing Authority in Washington changed its voucher program to a fixed-subsidy instead of an income-based one, leaving it with less of an administrative burden.
- The Lawrence-Douglas Housing Authority in Kansas assumes a minimum income for those residents who can work. This requirement encourages employment and reduces the dollars spent on housing subsidies, opening up opportunities to help even more low-income residents.
The Application Process
A PHA must be a high performer before even applying to the MTW program. That is determined by looking at the Public Housing Assessment System (PHAS) and/or the Section Eight Management Assessment Program (SEAMAP). As long as your agency has vouchers or public housing units under an Annual Contributions Contract (ACC), it qualifies to apply.
The process of applying for the MTW program is lengthy. But the good news for PHAs is that there’s a planned expansion of the program. HUD is planning to add 100 new MTW agencies over the next seven years. But HUD doesn’t have the capacity to take all 100 agencies at once, so new agencies will be brought onboard over several years.
The criteria originally looked at is as follows:
- No less than 50 PHAs shall administer 1,000 or fewer aggregate voucher and public housing units
- No less than 47 PHAs shall administer 1,001–6,000 aggregate voucher and public housing units
- No more than three PHAs shall administer 6,001–27,000 aggregate voucher and public housing units
- No PHA over 27,000 units
Preparing a Proposal
HUD moves slowly when opening slots. PHAs should look for an Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) notice to let them know of funding availability. In past cases, an MTW agency has also had to put forth a proposal of what it wants to accomplish and how.
- For example, a PHA might propose to change the rent structure in a couple different ways, creating a few different control groups to perform an experiment of sorts. Such a test would allow HUD and other research organizations to find out what effect the changes had. (Boulder Housing Partners in Colorado provides a strong example of an initial plan.)
- Another item to consider is who will run your MTW program. The MTW designation brings benefits, but also significant work. There are yearly plans and reports, and the HUD standard metrics for the MTW program have become more rigid and tougher to comply with.
- If you propose an activity that you believe will be more administratively efficient, HUD will ask you to provide hard numbers for it. You’ll need to detail how many hours the current tasks take and how many you expect them to take in the future. You’ll also need to put dollars to these numbers and back them up with a methodology. This all happens in both the application phase and years following selection.
Applying for the MTW program can be worth your agency’s time and effort as long as you’re aware of the criteria and extra responsibility that comes with it.
If you plan carefully and review other MTW agencies’ plans and reports, your housing authority stands a much better chance of being chosen for this important program.
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