Supporting residents through workforce development and employment opportunities - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Supporting residents through workforce development and employment opportunities

National and local experts explore best practices for balancing work requirements with workforce development strategies for public housing residents

On November 1, 2007, MPC hosted its 12th Building Successful Mixed-Income Communities forum, revisiting the topic of Jobs, Training and Workforce Development. Over 100 people attended the forum, co-sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in coordination with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), and heard a panel discussion on strategies for balancing work requirements and workforce development programs in the context of CHA’s Plan for Transformation. The topic of the day coincided with recent media coverage and community attention to CHA’s expansion of work requirements beyond mixed-income sites to traditional developments and voucher holders, creating a larger need for adequate workforce training and support for all CHA residents.

While previous forums have focused primarily on the new mixed-income sites, beginning in 2008 the time is ripe to expand the conversation to the broader goals of the Plan, which include self sufficiency goals for residents in the rehabs, scattered sites, and those with vouchers. If achieved, these communities will also be mixed and vibrant. Because current plans for work requirements and innovative service strategies are being expanded beyond the new mixed-income communities, the November 1st discussion began that foray into a broader discussion about the entire Plan for Transformation.

MarySue Barrett, MPC president, welcomed the audience and Maria Hibbs, executive director of the Partnership for New Communities and MPC Housing Committee member, moderated the panel. Sharon Gist Gilliam, CEO of CHA, and Evelyn Diaz , deputy chief of staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley, made opening remarks. Panelists included:








Panelists (l to r): Sherissa Cross, Stacy Ganea, Bill Goldsmith, Sharon Gist Gilliam, and Maria Hibbs (speaking)

Gilliam outlined CHA’s aim to adopt a 15-hour work requirement for residents in traditional public housing and those with vouchers by July 2008, with a goal to expand the requirement to 20 hours by January 2010. Gilliam stressed that fulfilling work requirements goes beyond employment and includes education, training, community service and other activities that advance progress towards self-sufficiency. Traditional public housing developments are undergoing extensive rehabilitation, she said, and residents there deserve the same benefits of the changing culture of public housing -- personal responsibility and active engagement in life and society – as those in the new mixed-income communities. That said, some residents face multiple barriers to this level of engagement, so new requirements must be accompanied by increased opportunities and availability of supportive services and workforce development programs. Gilliam emphasized the Plan for Transformation is not just about CHA, but many other partners -- social service providers, faith-based and community organizations, developers, foundations and other city agencies. Furthermore, the coordination, support and buy-in from the Mayor give Chicago advantage over other cities, she said.

Diaz described Opportunity Chicago , a $23 million initiative launched in 2006 by the Partnership for New Communities, Chicago Housing Authority and Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development. Recently extended to 5 years (2006-2010), the initiative is already exceeding its goals of increasing access to job training and moving CHA families to permanent employment. Key strategies of the initiative include: expanding and improving existing successful workforce development programs, engaging employers, increasing resident engagement in available programs through more comprehensive assessments, extensive data collection and ongoing evaluation of the initiative.

Diaz distinguished her previous role at Chicago Jobs Council , the organization responsible for coordinating and facilitating Opportunity Chicago, from her new role as an advisor who can help make the integration of city departments possible. She mentioned two other relevant initiatives the city is undertaking: Chicago LEADS, a two-year effort to align education and workforce development programs in four industries (hospitality, health care, transportation, finance); and an effort to engage businesses who employ low-wage workers to increase their investment in training and other programs for their workforce. Diaz also reiterated a message from Mayor Daley, emphasizing his commitments to expanding opportunities through education, training and jobs and to the mixed-income approach, which should be “a standard for communities throughout the city.”

Glover, of the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA), spoke broadly of the misleading vision of “failed” families in public housing and the reality of their “unlimited human potential.” According to Glover, previous public housing policies reinforced an overall assumption that families who need assistance are unable to function in society, and apparently the world of work. Under her leadership, AHA focused on two important concepts when devising a strategy for improving the lives of those in public housing: quality of environment and high expectations. AHA’s goal was to intentionally end “warehousing” of the poor and improve the physical environment of its housing. In addition, AHA sought to raise standards by instituting a requirement to “engage” in work through education, training or actual employment.

Following a deregulation agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), AHA has successfully implemented work requirements in its mixed-income developments over the past decade, with a 93 percent participation rate in those sites. In the fall of 2004, AHA began including a “commitment to work” as part of its resident lease agreement and required one adult member of each household to engage in 30 hours of work. The expansion of the work requirement beyond mixed-income sites came after investing millions in workforce development for residents living in other public housing with little success. As of October 2007, 83 percent of residents in non-mixed income sites are compliant.

Glover stressed the importance of standards and expectations while acknowledging the need for human services delivered on a family-by-family basis. It’s unacceptable to create systems that “discriminate” against public housing residents with labels and low expectations. Research on the adverse effects of poverty often get left out of the planning process, said Glover, but they must be considered for successful policies and implementation.

Goldsmith, of The Community Builders Inc. (TCB), began by describing the forum as “a blessing and a curse,” emphasizing how critical it is to share “all the victories and our greatest fears” in an open environment since the success of mixed-income sites is not guaranteed. In addition to being the developer of Oakwood Shores (formerly Madden/Wells), TCB is involved in fourteen other mixed-income neighborhood revitalization projects across the country. His presentation focused on a new TCB “Green House” initiative to develop a housing-based practice model for its communities, based on lessons learned, to deliberately impact “upward mobility for working families” and rebuild community culture and supports in these neighborhoods. The new effort focuses on three strategies- adult financial success, support for youth, and building social capital.

Goldsmith described “the promise of mixed-income communities” to give people the opportunity to transition from the public system to the market and stressed the importance of moving from “the addictive powers of entitlement” to “market-place thinking.” He stressed property management must move from a “transactional” environment to a “nurturing” one that provides an opportunity to engage residents in financial and career resources. He also discussed the challenges for developers of mixed-income communities and the importance of mitigating negative impacts on turnover, property wear and tear, and occupancy in market rate units. Investing in “resident prosperity“ increases the overall value of the community and benefits developers as owners and stakeholders in the real estate.

Ganea, a recruitment manager at Chicago’s State St. Macy’s, described Macy’s partnerships with a number of community organizations to recruit potential employees, focusing on the relationship with TCB and Oakwood Shores residents. From an employer perspective, she shared four elements that make the TCB partnership successful: knowing what the employer is looking for, building trust through honest feedback between employer and TCB job developer, hiring “caring” employees who are confident, and having ongoing communication about opportunities. In its two-year partnership with TCB, Macy’s has hired 39 Oakwood Shores residents.

Sherissa Cross describes her employment at Macy's

Cross, a resident of Oakwood Shores and Macy’s employee, spoke of her history as a former Ida B. Wells resident and her engagement in workforce development services provided at Oakwood Shores . After working with TCB staff to identify her job interests and prepare for the interview process, she was hired as a seasonal employee at Macy’s and is currently in her second term, with the prospect of a full-time position. Cross described the work requirements and employment programs at Oakwood Shores as an overall positive experience.

Ganea and Cross underscored the valuable work of the dedicated staff who linked them to one another and prepped both for a successful interaction. Both stressed how critical it is to invest in such qualified professionals in this field, if broader policy goals are to be achieved.

A brief Q&A session followed the panelists’ presentations. Below is a sampling of topics that were addressed:

  • Advice for residents about engaging in workforce development programs and finding employment
    • Cross said people should “get behind their fears” and do things for themselves because “you can’t depend on the system.”
  • Residents’ ability to meet work requirements
    • Glover said even with 10 years experience in Atlanta , any standard such as work requirements calls for “good judgment” or it will fail. Decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis. After expanding work requirements in Atlanta , 83% of residents are working without a “push” from AHA. She now focuses on the 17% who are non-compliant. She stressed the need for social workers to help families overcome obstacles rather than property managers alone.
    • Gilliam said CHA anticipated the possibility of residents not having stable employment “through no fault of their own” and has given a one-year cure period as long as they are engaged with a service provider.
  • Evictions/moves as a result of non-compliance with work requirements
    • Glover said there have been evictions in Atlanta and described this as a “conventional” problem. She did not have a count for the mixed-income sites but estimated 100 evictions since Nov. 2004 in traditional developments and the voucher program. She stressed “if you don’t enforce, people don’t believe you’re serious,” but “by and large, people want the same opportunities.”
  • Access to childcare
    • Goldsmith said affordable, dependable childcare is essential if heads of households who are primarily mothers are expected to work. Oakwood Shores has several partnerships and plans for facilities to provide child care and youth activities. He also pointed out the importance of access to transportation options.
    • Glover stressed “partnerships, partnerships, partnerships.”
    • Gilliam said through HOPE VI, CHA can pay for a certain amount of child care services. Also, many CHA developments are located in neighborhoods historically served by a number of non-profit and community-based organizations. Services are often available, but it’s a matter of making residents aware of the opportunities. She said the larger problem is after-school care for youth ages 10-17 years who are “too old for daycare and park district programs, but too young for work.”
  • Employer perspective- what makes a “successful” employee?
    • Ganea said potential employees who show up in person and do “investigative work” stand out. In addition, candidates who work with organizations such as TCB that are “hands-on” and involved in bringing them to interviews often have better prospects for employment and success.
  • Funding for human services
    • Glover said HOPE VI funds have been critical for AHA, but HUD does not offer much financial support for human service programs. Partnerships are key. Also, through HUD’s Moving to Work block grants, AHA has funding for relocating families at 10 developments for a period of 27 months.
    • Gilliam reiterated the need for partnerships and the flexibility of Moving to Work grants for CHA, but said that funding will not be available in the long-term. She said “the time is now, because we have the money now.”
    • Hibbs said using funding from other sources such as through the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development or the Workforce Investment Act is a critical strategy.

For more information on the Plan for Transformation, visit MPC's Public Housing in the Public Interest page or CHA's website.

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