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Summer/Fall 2018   


Jobs Plus: Self-Sufficiency in Public Housing


      • Jobs Plus differs from other self-sufficiency programs with its comprehensive approach to encouraging employment and focus on entire public housing developments rather than individual households.
      • An evaluation of the first implementation of Jobs Plus at six sites shows that participating households increased their earnings and employment rates. The impact was greater in sites with strong, well-implemented programs, and the increase in earnings persisted after the program ended.
      • The third, ongoing iteration of Jobs Plus preserves the structure of the original program but also builds on the successes and outcomes of the previous phases.

As an agency that serves millions of low-income households across the country, HUD is responsible for creating effective programs that help those households achieve self-sufficiency. The introduction of EnVision Centers is the most recent example of HUD’s capacity to positively impact communities, but there are several others. One of these self-sufficiency programs, Jobs Plus, has been shown to be both particularly effective and replicable. This article describes the basic structure of Jobs Plus, its implementation, and the evidence supporting its efficacy.


Jobs Plus has three components: onsite employment services, a financial incentive to encourage work, and a community-based support network.1 The goal of the program is to make regular employment a “common aspect of life in public housing.”2 Jobs Plus is one of several self-sufficiency programs that HUD has introduced over the years, including the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, the Rent Reform Demonstration (RRD), and certain implementations of the Moving to Work (MTW) demonstration program in which participating public housing agencies (PHAs) have used their special authority to institute work requirements.3 These three programs have contributed to the landscape of work-oriented policy in slightly different ways.

FSS, the program most explicitly linked to self-sufficiency, is similar to Jobs Plus in that it involves a collaboration between PHAs and other local service organizations. Households participating in FSS sign a contract that outlines their plan to achieve self-sufficiency; their financial incentive consists of funds placed into an escrow account. By contrast, the rent-based incentives in the Jobs Plus program offer households a more immediate benefit.4

The goal of RRD is twofold: it makes certain changes to reduce PHAs’ administrative burden, and it minimizes the disincentive to increase earnings. An evaluation of RRD is ongoing, with a baseline report released in 2017.5 The House of Representatives has proposed legislation that will give PHAs more flexibility in setting rents.6 However, neither the demonstration program nor the proposed legislation include the employment services or community-building elements of Jobs Plus.

MTW exempts participating PHAs from certain public housing and voucher rules so they can develop innovative programs that use federal money efficiently, encourage self-sufficiency, and increase housing choice. Nine of the PHAs that have this special authority have used it to implement work requirements. Although none of these programs are exactly the same, they all have some form of supportive services in place.7 The impact of work requirements has also been studied in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the PHA’s specific program has had mostly positive effects.8

Although Jobs Plus is similar to other self-sufficiency programs, it is distinguished by its focus on a comprehensive approach to encouraging work rather than a single strategy. Jobs Plus also supports entire developments rather than individual households, encouraging work throughout the community — a strategy known as saturation. Jobs Plus is also notable for the body of evidence showing its lasting positive impact on earnings and employment rates in public housing communities. Other programs have yet to demonstrate a comparable consistency in their impact.

Three Generations of Jobs Plus

Jobs Plus: 1998 to 2003. The first iteration of Jobs Plus started in 1998 and ran until 2003. It was funded by a group of public and private organizations led by HUD and The Rockefeller Foundation. This group included MDRC, which was involved in the program’s creation and has provided technical assistance and evaluations for each iteration of the program.9 To be eligible for participation, applicants were required to create a collaborative that included representatives from the PHA, public housing residents, the local welfare department, and local workforce development organizations.

The six sites chosen were Baltimore, Maryland; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Dayton, Ohio; Los Angeles, California; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Seattle, Washington. Despite a carefully considered selection process, only three of the sites were able to achieve full implementation of the program. Four of the six sites were ultimately able to build “coherent programs of reasonable quality,” and a disruption in one of those four late in the program’s implementation resulted in its exclusion from the final evaluation.10

These failures were not entirely due to shortcomings of the collaborators themselves. In Seattle, many residents of the city’s Rainier Vista development were displaced by the demolition of their units for a HOPE VI redevelopment. The components of Jobs Plus were then integrated into the HOPE redevelopment (renamed “HOPEPlus”). However, the circumstances of the Rainier Vista residents had become too different from the residents of the other three cities to keep Seattle in the national demonstration. The results of this combination of HOPE VI and Jobs Plus were evaluated separately.11

An aerial view of downtown San Antonio, Texas.
Following the promising findings of the original Jobs Plus demonstration, the Social Innovation Fund supported an expanded, large-scale implementation of the program in San Antonio and at three public housing sites in the Bronx. Photo courtesy of Sean Pavone Photography

New leadership in the Chattanooga PHA, who arrived after site selection, decided to privatize the management of its developments. The strain of this transition adversely affected the PHA’s implementation of Jobs Plus and made the service-heavy components of the program untenable. In 2002, concerns about the capacity of the PHA to handle both the privatization effort and the Jobs Plus program led the PHA to pursue only the financial incentives component of the program. Chattanooga’s departure from the program highlights how difficult it can be to implement an initiative as comprehensive and collaborative as Jobs Plus.

Seattle and Chattanooga each had difficulty with different aspects of starting the program. Some sites took more than two years to implement the community component of Jobs Plus, and all but one took at least a year to offer the financial incentives.12

MDRC evaluated this first implementation of Jobs Plus, finding that the program helped to increase the earnings and employment rate of households that participated. The impacts are discussed in more detail later in this article.

San Antonio and New York City: 2010 to today. The second iteration of Jobs Plus arose independently of HUD. Seven years after the first round of Jobs Plus ended, the East River Development Alliance in Queens, New York, adapted the original program for the Queensbridge Houses. Soon after, the New York City Center for Economic Opportunity funded a replication of Jobs Plus in a housing development in Harlem. These two small-scale implementations were followed up by a larger implementation in San Antonio, Texas, and three public housing sites in the Bronx. This expansion was supported by the Social Innovation Fund (SIF),13 a federally administered, public-private partnership funding program, and was administered by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity.14

After these SIF-funded programs ran their course, New York City’s Human Resources Administration expanded the program to eight more sites in New York City as part of the city’s Young Men’s Initiative. Jobs Plus is currently active in 27 developments in the city’s 5 boroughs through various partnerships and reaches more than 4,000 residents.15

The Jobs Plus program in San Antonio was developed in partnership with the New York City agencies and served residents at two of the city’s most impoverished public housing developments: Alazan-Apache Courts and Mirasol Homes. These two developments have a combined 1,196 units.

A major difference between the first generation of Jobs Plus and the SIF implementation of the program was the lack of MTW authority at the sites in the Bronx, which left them with less budgetary flexibility than the six original Jobs Plus sites had.16 This restriction left the SIF programs with limited options for financial incentives. The MTW agencies used either flat/stepped rents or a reduction in the percentage of income that went to rent as a financial incentive to encourage work. As an alternative financial incentive, the SIF programs in San Antonio and the Bronx turned to a little-known tool called the Earned Income Disallowance (EID). 

Two line graphs showing pooled average quarterly earnings for Jobs Plus participants and for the comparison group.

Reprinted from Howard S. Bloom, James A. Riccio, and Nandita Verma, Promoting Work in Public Housing: The Effectiveness of Jobs-Plus (New York: MDRC, 2005). Used with permission.

The EID is a cumulative, 24-month, once-in-a-lifetime disregard of increased earnings in a household’s rent calculation.17 The tool allows PHAs to disregard 100 percent of a resident’s increased income for the first 12 months of occupancy. In the second 12 months, the disregard decreases to 50 percent. The EID is more limited than the rent incentives available to MTW PHAs because it can be used only once in a tenant’s life, and it can be applied for a total of only 24 months. In addition, PHAs rarely use the EID; most PHA staff and residents have little to no awareness of the tool or how to implement it. PHA staff in the SIF programs had to develop the capacity to implement and track the EID as well as inform residents about the tool’s structure and benefits.

According to MDRC, these limitations greatly decreased the effectiveness of the financial incentive component of Jobs Plus in this second iteration.18 Take-up for the incentive was very low; an estimated 1 percent of working- age adults in the Bronx and 3 percent in San Antonio used it.19 San Antonio eventually used their MTW status to convert the EID to a five-year benefit late in the implementation and saw an improvement in the takeup rate.

Scaling up the model: 2015 to today. The third iteration of the Jobs Plus program expands the program through the Jobs Plus Pilot, which began in fiscal year 2015 and is ongoing.20 To date, HUD has awarded roughly $62 million to 24 grantees to implement this version of the program, which builds on the previous implementations and includes two parallel evaluations: a process study and an outcomes study. The interim report from the process study was published in 2017, the final report from the process study is set to be published in 2018, and the final report from the outcome study is due in 2021.

The scaled-up version of Jobs Plus largely preserves the structure of the original program. One significant change is that the requirement to form a collaborative has been removed. Instead, the current program simply encourages PHAs to build local partnerships with public housing residents, local businesses, philanthropic organizations, nonprofits, or other organizations.21 This new flexibility resulted in different types of partnerships with varying degrees of formality.22

Another difference from the original HUD program is the use of the newly created Jobs Plus EID (JPEID). Because not all of the Jobs Plus participants have MTW authority, HUD added JPEID to the program to make program benefits consistent across all sites. JPEID allows PHAs to disregard 100 percent of a tenant’s rent increase due to additional earnings for the duration of the Jobs Plus program, unlike the EID, which limits the disregard to a total of 24 months.

The Research

What we know so far. Several reports have been published that document the implementation process for Jobs Plus. As one of the organizations primarily responsible for developing and studying the program, MDRC has published more than 20 articles, reports, and papers on Jobs Plus. The only impact evaluations that have been published so far, however, are the MDRC papers and reports on the original six cities.23 The Jobs Plus programs that followed either did not have impact evaluations as part of the implementation or have not yet had their evaluations published.

Despite this limitation, the similarity among the different iterations of Jobs Plus suggests that the impacts reported in the existing evaluations can be considered valid for the program in general.24 Indeed, the new features of the current iteration are based on lessons learned from the previous versions, suggesting that the current round of Jobs Plus implementations will demonstrate even greater benefits.

For the original Jobs Plus demonstration, each of the six participating PHAs chose two or three similar developments to implement the program. The research team randomly selected one of these developments as the Jobs Plus site with the others as controls. The earnings of residents in both the treatment and control groups were tracked over time and then compared. The program implementation was slightly different in each city but had the same general structure.25

The results of this evaluation show that Jobs Plus, when implemented well, has a positive impact on residents’ earnings.26 Across all six sites combined, the average annual earnings of all residents in the treatment developments increased by 6.2 percent (see chart).

The impact of Jobs Plus was greater in sites that had built stronger programs. In Dayton, Los Angeles, and St. Paul, annual impacts averaged 14 percent per year and were accelerating through the duration of the program (see chart).

By the time the program ended, residents of these three sites were earning an average of $1,540 more per year than those in the comparison developments — an increase of nearly 20 percent.

In 2010, MDRC published a followup study to the 2005 evaluation.27 This study found that the increase in earnings for the participating households had persisted after the program ended in 2003. In the post-program period (2004 to 2006), the earnings increase averaged $1,517 per year (see chart).

The cumulative earnings impact for the entire extended period (2000 to 2006) ranged from 14 percent in Dayton to 19 percent in St. Paul. This impact on earnings could be substantial. For example, in St. Paul, the average cumulative earnings from 2000 to 2006 were $13,181 greater than the earnings of residents in comparison developments.28 

Line graph with two lines showing mean quarterly earnings for Jobs Plus group and the comparison group from 1994 to 2016.
SOURCE: MDRC calculations using data from state Unemployment Insurance (UI) wage records. NOTES: Sample includes all working-age, nondisabled residents who lived in the Jobs-Plus or comparison developments in Dayton, Los Angeles, or St. Paul in October 1998. Trend lines show residents’ earnings pre- and post-October 1998, whether or not they were living in the developments before or after that time. The annual and cumulative earnings impacts for the period 2000-2006 are statistically significant.
Reprinted from James A. Riccio, Sustained Earnings Gains for Residents in a Public Housing Jobs Program (New York: MDRC, 2010). Used with permission.

What we don’t know. Researchers don’t yet know the outcomes for the current Jobs Plus demonstration. The analyses of the two previous generations suggest that the implementation process was the largest hurdle for participants to overcome. Being able to draw on these previous experiences will potentially strengthen the program moving forward. Evaluations of the third generation of Jobs Plus will provide researchers with a much better understanding of the impact of Jobs Plus on HUD residents, although the findings to date provide some of the most convincing evidence of a program’s effectiveness that HUD has ever produced.


Encouraging the self-sufficiency of families is one of HUD’s primary goals. Indeed, attaining this goal is the impetus behind all the programs discussed in this article, including the implementation of work requirements in MTW developments and the introduction of the EnVision Centers initiative. Current evidence suggests that Jobs Plus is one of HUD’s best options for advancing that goal. When implemented well, Jobs Plus can greatly improve the earnings of assisted households. In addition, the 2010 followup study by MDRC suggests that these benefits continue after the end of the intervention. Although it’s possible that the current demonstration will have different outcomes than the previous iterations did, integrating the lessons learned from the previous programs into the current version increases the likelihood that those results will be replicated or improved upon, allowing HUD to further its mission of empowering communities.

— Brian Stromberg, HUD Staff

  1. The original title of the program included a hyphen (Jobs-Plus) that has since been dropped. The most recent spelling of the name is used throughout this report for consistency.
  2. James A. Riccio. 2010. "Sustained Earnings Gains for Residents in a Public Housing Jobs Program," MDRC.
  3. For an early review of self-sufficiency programs at HUD, including FSS, see: Amy S. Bogdon. 1999. "What Can We Learn from Previous Housing-Based Self-Sufficiency Programs?" in The Home Front, Sandra J. Newman, ed. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press, 149–74.
  4. Lalith de Silva, Imesh Wijewardena, Michelle Wood, and Bulbul Kaul. 2011. "Evaluation of the Family Self-Sufficiency Program: Prospective Study," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research; Judy Geyer, Lesley Freiman, Jeffrey Lubell, and Micah Villareal. 2017. "Evaluation of the Compass Family Self-Sufficiency Programs Administered in Partnership with Public Housing Agencies in Lynn and Cambridge, Massachusetts," Abt Associates. Abt research is ongoing.
  5. Betsy L. Tessler, Nandita Verma, Jonathan Bigelow, Victoria Quiroz-Becerra, Kirstin P. Frescoln, William M. Rohe, Michael D. Webb, Amy T. Khare, Mark L. Joseph, and Emily K. Miller. 2017. "Scaling Up a Place-Based Employment Program: Highlights from the Jobs Plus Pilot Program Evaluation," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research.
  6. A copy of the proposed bill, the "Promoting Resident Opportunity through Rent Reform Act of 2018,"is available at financialservices.house.gov/uploadedfiles/bills-115_rossfl022_pih.pdf.
  7. Diane K. Levy, Leiha Edmonds, and Jasmine Simington. 2018. "Work Requirements in Public Housing Authorities: Experiences to Date and Knowledge Gaps," Urban Institute.
  8. William M. Rohe, Michael D. Webb, and Kirstin Frescoln. 2016. "Work Requirements in Public Housing: Impacts on Tenant Employment and Evictions," Housing Policy Debate 26:6, 909–27.
  9. Howard S. Bloom, James A. Riccio, and Nandita Verma. 2005. "Promoting Work in Public Housing: The Effectiveness of Jobs-Plus," MDRC. This is the final report on the first demonstration. A complete list of Jobs Plus-related publications by MDRC is available at www.mdrc.org/project/jobs-plus-community-revitalization-initiative-public-housing-families.
  10. Bloom et al., 33.
  11. The Seattle site also demonstrated benefits from Jobs Plus beyond an increase in earnings. The Seattle program's community engagement component empowered residents and gave them a more influential voice in the HOPE VI redevelopment process. See: Edward B. Liebow, Carolina Katz Reid, Gabrielle E. O'Malley, Scott Marsh, and Susan Blank. 2004. "Resident Participation in Seattle's Jobs-Plus Program," MDRC.
  12. Bloom et al.
  13. More information on SIF can be found at www.nationalservice.gov/programs/social-innovation-fund.
  14. David M. Greenberg, Aurelia Aceves, Victoria Quiroz-Becerra, David H. Greenberg, and Ari Oppenheim. 2015. "The Second Generation of Jobs-Plus Programs: Implementation Lessons from San Antonio and the Bronx," MDRC. See also www.saha.org/index.php/about-saha/jobs-plus; More information on these organizations can be found at www1.nyc.gov/site/opportunity/index.page and www1.nyc.gov/site/fund/index.page.
  15. See opportunitynycha.org/workforce-development/jobs-plus for more information on Jobs Plus in New York City, including specific site information.
  16. The San Antonio site did have MTW status at the time of the evaluation but chose not to use it to keep the programs the same at both sites.
  17. More information on the EID is available at www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/EID_Training.pdf.
  18. Greenberg et al.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Tessler et al.
  21. Ibid., 15.
  22. Ibid., 17.
  23. Bloom et al; Riccio.
  24. The interim process report for the current Jobs Plus program suggests that lessons have been learned from the previous iterations. Some sticking points in the implementation remain, such as PHA staff being unfamiliar with JPEID and the difficulty of building and managing partnerships among large-scale organizations.
  25. See Liebow et al. for a discussion of the specifics of the Seattle implementation. For descriptions of each city's implementation, see: Linda Yuriko Kato. 2003. "Participating in a Place-Based Employment Initiative," MDRC, 119–26.
  26. Bloom et al.
  27. Riccio.
  28. Ibid.


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