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The District is banking on a new program to decrease the average length of time residents live in public housing—over 20 years, according to a 2013 Wall Street Journal article.  

The two-decade stay, along with gross mismanagement of many public housing facilities, has forced the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to seek new, cost-effective measures to limit stays and reassess need criteria.  Among them, the District’s ‘Moving to Work’ program – Creative Living Solutions, recently saw the graduation of 28 families from its Family Self-Sufficiency and Achieving Your Best Life programs.

The ceremony, held on June 25, recognized the 26 self-sufficiency program and two life program graduates for completing milestones such as gaining employment, improving their financial literacy, or purchasing a home.  Creative Living Solutions programs function as a part of the national HUD strategy to eliminate the growing need for subsidized housing through tenant incentives for participating in job training, educational, or other programs that assist in obtaining self-sufficiency.

Even as District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) staff and community partners work to promote self-sufficiency among residents in its nearly 8,700 public housing units and utilizing the 12,900 Housing Choice Vouchers it administers, fewer affordable housing units and shrinking budgets make their efforts an uphill battle.

Earlier this year DCHA increased the amount it can pay landlords in monthly rent to provide its Housing Choice Voucher Program customers more choice and flexibility in their housing. “Our families have fewer affordable housing options available to them now than they did just a few years ago,” said DCHA Executive Director Adrianne Todman. “This increase will allow them to have more choice and move to more areas of the city, to different school districts, and closer to their jobs.”

Using the authority’s flexibility as a Moving to Work agency, DCHA increased the payment standard from 110 percent of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fair market rent to 130 percent. This effort under the program, made it possible to increase the number of rental submarkets voucher holders could reside in from 15 to 26.

And as administrators look to enhance the program going forward, its proposed 2018 plan includes

continued efforts to encourage self-sufficiency, but pushes for a more comprehensive and coordinated approach in facilitating access to services/resources for residents.  Among DCHA goals: increase the number of families achieving homeownership, increase the number of families receiving self-sufficiency services, and increase families earned income as a result of rent reform efforts.

Still, some economists, including Will Fischer, believe the program’s policies could disproportionately impact the working poor.  “ policies may increase work to a degree among the small minority of rental assistance recipients who are not elderly, disabled, already working, or subject to work requirements under another program, but they may also result in homelessness or other severe hardship for families that cannot find jobs,” Fisher wrote in a 2010 Center on Budget and Policies Priorities report titled “Sharp Expansion of HUD’s MTW Demonstration Raises Serious Concerns.”

He said it was difficult to determine whether subsequent changes in employment, hardship, or costs stem from the work requirement or other factors, such as economic conditions or changes in the agency’s caseload.