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Learning from Each Other: Working Together to Deliver Job Training and Supportive Services in Austin, Tx

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program success story

Working Toward Self-Sufficiency

Marcela M. is a 23-year-old single mother of two. She has been an active participant in the Welfare to Work Voucher program, Austin Works Together project, and Central East Austin Community Organization (CEACO) since the spring of 2000.

Since her enrollment in these programs she has maintained full-time employment and remained active in her community through volunteer work in the local elementary school. In May 2000, she was given a "Certificate of Appreciation" from the elementary school for her services, and she was further honored for her work at a CEACO Fiesta in June 2000.

Agency: The Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA)
(Size of WtW Program: 700 vouchers)


The job training and supportive service delivery system in Austin, Texas has historically been fragmented. Although the local government agencies and private, nonprofit organizations serve many of the same people, they have rarely collaborated in any substantive way. The absence of collaboration has served as a barrier to creative, effective approaches to welfare reform in Austin. For example, while recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) must overcome multiple barriers to employment and need access to a comprehensive web of services, Austin's workforce development system lacked an entity that specializes in the long-term, intensive case management required to address the barriers TANF recipients face.

Solution: Austin Works Together Project

The Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) helped break this pattern of non-collaboration by administering $1.7 million in Department of Labor (DOL) Welfare-to-Work funds received by the local workforce investment board to establish the Austin Works Together (AWT) project. AWT is a comprehensive public-private partnership that helps TANF recipients and other eligible individuals make the transition from welfare dependence to self-sufficiency. Due primarily to HACA's involvement in administering the project, public housing residents and Section 8 tenants with multiple barriers to employment are the primary beneficiaries. The AWT project is a key component of HACA's strategy to assist its residents in achieving self-sufficiency.


One of the most important factors in establishing the AWT project was building credibility among the public and private organizations involved in welfare reform. In order to replicate this project or to simply attract additional resources for workforce development activities, a housing authority should take the following steps:

Step 1: Demonstrate your commitment to welfare reform.
The Austin Housing Authority began this process by taking a leadership role in the Austin/Travis County Welfare-to-Work Coalition.

Step 2: Establish a reputation as a good partner.
Successful partnerships are possible when both partners are willing to contribute resources to a project. The resources typically offered by HACA include meeting facilities and client recruitment. Successful partnerships begin with a clear understanding of the roles of each partner.

Step 3: Establish a relationship with your local Workforce Investment Board.
Becoming involved in local welfare reform efforts will help this relationship develop. If possible, enter into an agreement with the Workforce Board to have the housing authority administer and monitor DOL Welfare-to-Work funds.

Step 4: Secure the resources to hire a Coordinator to oversee the project.
If given responsibility for administering a sizable project, hire a coordinator to manage the procurement process and provide ongoing technical assistance and monitoring of all project partners.

Step 5: Obtain access to the client database used by the TANF Agency. Because of the strict eligibility criteria tied to DOL Welfare-to-Work funds, most people who meet AWT's program criteria are either currently or have previously been clients of DHS and/or the Workforce Centers. Without close collaboration with these agencies, the process of identifying potential clients would have been extremely resource intensive and time consuming. In fact, information-sharing constraints were initially a serious obstacle to the implementation of AWT. However, paying careful attention to confidentiality standards, HACA was able to facilitate an agreement with the Texas Workforce Commission to grant AWT access to The Workforce Information System of Texas (TWIST), the extensive client database used by the Texas Department of Human Services and the Capital of Texas Workforce Centers. By installing a secure line in AWT offices, AWT staff could access the information they needed to identify potential clients and to track client participation in the AWT program.

Step 6: Identify and recruit public housing and Section 8 residents for the program.
The impact of the Welfare to Work vouchers is greatly enhanced when voucher recipients access supportive services through a program such as AWT. HACA's DOL Grants coordinator and the AWT outreach coordinator attend Section 8 orientation sessions, acting as a mobile "one-stop" intake center for the AWT project. At each orientation, they provide an overview of the program, distribute enrollment forms, and determine eligibility. As of November 2000, they had enrolled approximately 70 new participants.

Step 7: Leverage the resources and expertise of others by partnering with existing community programs.
Seek opportunities with partners whose programs complement each other and collectively meet the broad range of residents' economic development needs. This prevents duplication of services and allows the housing authority and its partner agencies to specialize in what they do best. The AWT project effectively filled the unmet need of intensive case management and job placement services for the hardest-to-serve residents.

Step 8: Establish a central point of service delivery.
Establishing a central point of service delivery helps streamline the process and creates a seamless system of service delivery for clients. The Central East Austin Community Organization (CEACO) serves as the central point of service delivery for AWT since it is also the subcontractor of the DOL Welfare-to-Work grant, the lead agency in the AWT project, and the provider of intensive case management and supportive services for AWT.

CEACO has gathered a diverse group of partners with the resources and expertise to address the wide range of needs presented by welfare recipients. CEACO case managers work individually with each client, assessing their interests, strengths, and needs and then tailoring services accordingly. Case managers refer clients to AWT partners for education, training, and job placement services.


Because of creative partnerships with the Workforce Centers and the Austin Housing Authority, the AWT project has overcome the challenge of identifying and recruiting program participants. After nine months of operation, the project has produced impressive results -291 project participants are enrolled, and 153 are employed in unsubsidized jobs. As a result, AWT has exceeded its enrollment goal by 23 percent.

AWT has also met its performance target that at least 38 percent of participants either enter employment of 30 or more hours per week or increase their hours to 30 or more hours for the first time. To date, 113 participants have achieved this goal. Since this is not a short-term project but is expected to continue for up to three years, AWT anticipates assisting hundreds of additional families.

Contact: Greg Harrick, Grants Coordinator, (512) 474-5636


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