CHA connects residents to employers, education and training programs - Metropolitan Planning Council

Skip to main content

CHA connects residents to employers, education and training programs

More than 8,000 job placements since Plan began

The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) hosted its 9th “Building Successful Mixed-Income Communities” forum on December 12, 2006, co-sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and in coordination with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). Attracting over 100 people and featuring a national expert and several local policymakers and practitioners, the forum re-examined the issue of jobs, training and workforce development for CHA residents that was first featured in the July 2005 forum. MPC also released the executive summary of its December 2006 Update on the CHA Plan for Transformation , which outlines the new Workforce Development Initiative launched by CHA, the Partnership for New Communities (PNC), Chicago Dept. of Human Services (CDHS), and Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development (MOWD). 

Julia Stasch, vice president of the MacArthur Foundation’s program on human and community development, welcomed attendees, and Commissioner David Hanson of the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, and Meghan Harte, CHA managing director of resident services, made opening remarks. Maria Hibbs , executive director of the Partnership for New Communities and MPC Housing Committee member, moderated the panel of:

Julia Stasch, MacArthur Foundation

Stasch reiterated the progress of CHA’s Plan for Transformation thus far and the role of the “Building Successful Mixed-Income Communities” forums in helping city providers work together for community revitalization. She stressed the importance of workforce development for the success of the Plan and stated the MacArthur Foundation has contributed more than $50 million to the effort.

Hibbs emphasized that improving the economic success of CHA residents is important for the sustainability of the new mixed-income communities. Employment is the threshold condition that residents must meet to live in these communities, which in turn affects their occupancy levels and stability. The challenge is assisting residents with multiple employment barriers meet that threshold and experience the benefits of having a job.

Maria Hibbs, Parntership for New Communities

In her opening remarks, Harte briefly outlined the evolution of CHA’s workforce development efforts, which began at the beginning of the Plan in 1999, when there was little data available on the employment status and work histories of CHA residents. What started as a pilot of job placement trailers at a few sites has developed into 8,000 job placements through the Service Connector over the last six years and a new, comprehensive three-year workforce development strategy started in 2006.

Commissioner Hanson described MOWD’s commitment to integrating CHA residents into its existing employment programs and collaborating with CHA and its partners to create a “seamless system to align residents to businesses and employment.” The ongoing challenge, Hanson stated, is placing the right person in the right job.


Bob Giloth of the Annie E. Casey Foundation began by posing the question, “why should a kids’ foundation like ours be concerned about workforce development?” The answer, he said, is because “kids do better in strong families, and families do better when they live in communities that support them” on numerous levels, including adequate workforce development and job opportunities. He went on to discuss national labor force trends and concerns for the country’s workforce in the future, specifically the need to address literacy problems and integrate adult education with technical skills training.

Bob Giloth, Casey Foundation

According to Giloth, the workforce development efforts connected to the CHA Plan are categorized as “place-based strategies” aimed at targeting specific developments and neighborhoods. Given the scale of the Plan and the number of CHA residents providers are trying to reach, there are few, if any, comparable examples from around the country. He also stressed “there is no silver bullet,” thus CHA’s new strategy of customizing workforce development based on resident employment status – chronically unemployed, sporadically unemployed, consistently employed – makes sense.

Nevertheless, Giloth shared relevant insights and lessons learned from the workforce development efforts of the Casey Foundation. In particular, he outlined three specific findings from their work. First, the predictor of getting a job is whether an individual has access to human services and stable, affordable housing. Second, the predictor for 90-day job retention is access to good job training and workforce development. Third, the predictor for one-year job retention is ongoing skill development. In his experience, these results hold across all levels of job readiness. Moreover, both employee benefits and positive wage adjustments over time have a significant impact on job retention.

Giloth divided the challenges faced by CHA and its partners into scope, scale and duration issues. In terms of scope, it is important to “get the programs right” and combine the right “ingredients” – employers, follow-up, quality control, etc. Another challenge regarding scale is creating the workforce development infrastructure necessary to serve “lots of people at one time” and to manage so many partners. Finally, workforce development strategies require duration in terms of momentum and funding. The goal is not to end up promoting people to become working poor but to help them achieve economic stability. As Giloth stated, “becoming a steady worker is a process, not a program.”

Evelyn Diaz outlined the role of the Chicago Jobs Council (CJC) in CHA’s new Workforce Development Initiative. CJC is responsible for coordinating and facilitating regular meetings between CHA and its advisers and partners in the initiative. In addition, CJC helps organize participating public agencies to combine and maximize resources. Diaz said she is proud of the progress thus far in convening such a diverse group of stakeholders. She also expressed enthusiasm about the initiative’s “potential to create major systems change.” The goal of the three-year initiative is to prepare 3,000 CHA residents for successful employment through access to supportive services, education, training, and job placement. The initiative also involves strategies to increase employer engagement in hiring CHA residents and an ongoing evaluation by an independent party that began in December 2006.

Evelyn Diaz, Chicago Jobs Council

Although there are work requirements in the new mixed-income communities, Diaz stressed the approach of the initiative is not to “single out those most likely to return” to these communities, but to make services available to all residents. Moreover, to provide focused service delivery, residents are categorized based, as mentioned above, on their employment status and history and workforce development goals, and programs are tailored for each group. She emphasized that “numbers are important,” but the initiative’s partners are interested in “peeling back” those numbers and looking at residents’ lives to see how effectively they are moving toward self-sufficiency. Diaz also discussed some of the challenges ahead, including the need to secure additional commitments from a broader range of participants such as public agencies, community-based organizations, employers, and private funders. She closed by stating the major lesson learned in the initiative’s first year is the need to “always rethink assumptions about the best way to serve specific populations.”

Angela Starks described the partnership between City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) and CHA to provide training and career pathways to residents. She pointed out that many of CCC’s students face the same challenges as CHA residents, and that residents’ math and literacy levels are comparable to the general CCC student population. CHA residents must complete standard placement tests and are then offered either a “career bridge” to a specific professional field (nursing, commercial truck driving, customer service, etc.) or remediation program depending on their academic needs. Academic advising is an important part of the process to ensure a resident’s interests are matched with jobs in growing industries such as nursing and health care.

Angela Starks, City Colleges of Chicago

Between 2004 and 2006, approximately 1,157 CHA residents attended CCC orientation, and of those, 1,079 completed the required testing. Approximately 223 residents have completed technical training, exceeding the goal of 100 training enrollments. Since the collaboration with CCC and CHA began, eligibility for CHA residents has increased, meaning more residents test above ninth grade level and qualify for program enrollment, said Starks. Still, literacy levels remain a challenge, especially those below sixth grade level. Looking ahead, Starks stressed the need for connecting with more employers, streamlining residents’ transition from remediation programs to training, and improving communication with CHA, its partners, and most importantly, residents.

Mary Howard’s work in transitional jobs at Heartland Human Care Services, Inc. (HHCS), is motivated by her strong belief that “everyone has the right to housing and to employment that supports it.” In April 2005, HHCS launched a transitional jobs program for CHA residents at the ABLA/Roosevelt Square site. The program, as described by Howard, seeks a “rapid attachment to workforce” involving a 60-hour work readiness training followed by placement in a paid position with an employer partner. The individual’s salary is subsidized by HHCS, so the labor comes at no cost for employers. Residents are assigned a mentor at the job site and attend career development training regularly throughout the transitional employment period. Upon completion, residents have gained valuable work experience and references and may be eligible to apply for an available permanent position with the same employer or seek out other full-time employment.

Howard mentioned several challenges with transitional jobs programs and general workforce development. The need for residents to receive consistent, frequent contact from many people make transitional job programs expensive and difficult to manage without sacrificing quality. In working with CHA residents, HHCS regularly has to turn down services to non-leaseholders who would benefit from the program but not qualify. Despite having 129 employer partners, making linkages with new employers remains an obstacle. Finally, it is difficult for residents to weigh the benefits of getting work experience that is not necessarily on their ideal career path even though it gives them valuable work routine habits and a good reference. In her work, Howard has learned that the best way to sell the transitional jobs program is to have participating residents explain it and tell their stories. The future of transitional job programs, and other workforce development efforts, depends on employer partnerships and increased funding, said Howard.

Following the panelists’ formal presentations, the audience participated in a brief Q & A session. Below is a sampling of topics that were discussed:

  • Engaging residents and employers in the Workforce Development Initiative
    • Diaz said the Service Connector has the initial task of engaging residents and informing them of their options for workforce development services. Howard stressed the importance of understanding a resident’s goals and that they may be ambivalent about what they want. For employers, Howard emphasized the need to frame discussions around the employer’s attrition and retention needs and how CHA residents fit that. Giloth reiterated that the service provider and employer both have the same definition of job readiness, which is a selling point. Starks stated residents must also be informed about what it means to have a specific career. Also, PNC is developing a marketing plan to attract employers to participate in the initiative.
  • How job placements are made
    • Besides transitional jobs programs, Diaz said Service Connectors often provide direct job placements. In addition, residents may be placed through the public workforce system (i.e. Workforce Investment Act programs) or find employment on their own.
  • Getting resident input
    • According to Diaz, CJC relies on Service Connectors and other resident service providers to gather information that can shape how initiative programs develop. Hibbs indicated that data and demographics are another source of information. Moreover, Hibbs stated the initiative’s ongoing evaluation will involve focus groups that include CHA residents.
  • Resident incentives for working
    • When residents become employed, there is a one-year period of earned income disregard in which income from employment is not included in income for rent, said Harte. In addition, CHA is piloting savings programs at a few sites similar to HUD’s Family Self Sufficiency program (based on matching money set aside by residents as escrow).
  • What message of hope should we give residents
    • Howard said residents should know there are many concerned providers that have their best interests in the forefront. Giloth echoed that the message has to be conveyed by “those who are moving ahead” because “that’s what convinces people.”

More posts by Laura

All posts by Laura »

MPC on Twitter

Follow us on Twitter »

Stay in the loop!

MPC's Regionalist newsletter keeps you up to date with our work and our upcoming events.?

Subscribe to Regionalist

Most popular news

Browse by date »

This page can be found online at

Metropolitan Planning Council 140 S. Dearborn St.
Suite 1400
Chicago, Ill. 60603
312 922 5616

Sign up for newsletter and alerts »

Shaping a better, bolder, more equitable future for everyone

For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

Donate »