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Learning from Each Other: Creating a Seamless Integration of Employment Requirements, Monitoring, and Case Management in Manassas, VA

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Agency: Manassas City Department of Social Services, Housing Office
(Size of WtW Program: 44 vouchers)

Note: Manassas City is an administering agency of Virgina's state-wide voucher program run by the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA).

Challenge

All WtW PHAs face the challenge of making the WtW voucher distinct from a regular program voucher. In order to do this, some PHAs have chosen to establish special WtW family obligations, combined with a strong support system to encourage and ease the transition from welfare to work. Enforcing such obligations and maintaining a support network, however, are not easy tasks to handle, even for a well-managed agency. WtW Programs must therefore find a way to balance employment requirements with support services to ensure staff provides an encouraging environment that simultaneously challenges clients to succeed. This approach must also be implemented in an efficient and consistent way so as to achieve WtW goals while not overburdening WtW staff.

Solution: Create a Seamless Integration of Employment Requirements, Monitoring, and Case Management

When HUD announced the availability of WtW vouchers in 1998, Manassas City saw the program as an opportunity to provide housing stability and promote self-sufficiency among its many welfare recipients. With these special vouchers, the Agency could tie work requirements directly to the vouchers and thus provide a real incentive for families to find employment. Through careful planning, Manassas City designed a challenging work program that supports Virginia’s welfare reform goals and better prepares its families to find jobs in the area’s competitive job market.

Implementation

The agency developed a four-part strategy to achieve its objectives.

1. Dedicate sufficient staff resources to manage the program and assign clear roles and responsibilities.

Manassas City’s housing choice voucher program is housed within the City’s Department of Social Services (DSS), the local TANF agency. Manassas City DSS runs a small regular housing choice voucher program of approximately 195 units supported by a staff of four professionals. This staff of four also manages the WtW voucher program, with each team member assigned clear roles and responsibilities, as follows:

  • Housing Manager focuses on the “big picture” issues: general program oversight, development of policies and procedures, community relations, customer service, etc. An important part of her job is partnership building, both internally with other DSS offices and externally with local service agencies.
  • Housing Program Administrator is the “Section 8 guru” with responsibility for waiting list management, initial leasing, reexaminations, and interims (for both the regular and WtW voucher program).
  • Housing Program Agent is responsible for monitoring WtW participant compliance with WtW work requirements. She also conducts inspections for all voucher units and supports the FSS program.
  • FSS Coordinator (part-time position) provides intensive case management to all FSS families, including WtW families participating in FSS. An important aspect of her job is selling the FSS program to WtW families.

The Housing Manager attributes much of the program’s success to her extremely competent, knowledgeable team. Each team member contributes a special skill that makes the team more valuable and effective as a whole. For example, the Housing Manager can focus on the important task of building community partnerships because the Housing Program Administrator has a solid understanding of voucher rules and agency policy and procedures. The program also benefits from the computer and organizational skills of the Housing Program Agent responsible for monitoring the progress families make in achieving the employment goals of the program. To complement this technical knowledge, the FSS Coordinator’s background in social work allows her to provide families with top-quality case management and support.

2. Establish strict work requirements.

  • Before issuing a WtW voucher to the client, the Agency thoroughly explains to the client, both orally and in writing, that the WtW voucher is special and requires a commitment to seek employment. Eligible applicants understand that they will receive a “special” voucher that comes with additional responsibilities.
  • Manassas City DSS requires that a one-person household work a minimum of 35 hours per week. A two-person household must work a minimum of 60 hours per week. For WtW families participating in the FSS program, the work requirement is reduced if the family is enrolled in a training or education program.
  • Self-employed individuals, such as those providing daycare in their homes, must be licensed and abide by local and state requirements for running a business out of an individual’s home. Self-employed individuals also must earn an income at an hourly rate equal to or above the minimum wage.

3. Monitor and track adherence to the work requirements.

  • By the 10th of each month, working members of all WtW households must submit copies of all pay stubs to the Housing Program Agent, who is responsible for monitoring compliance with the program’s work requirements. If an individual is self-employed, that individual must also return a standardized form that identifies when the individual worked.
  • The Housing Program Agent uses a simple MS Excel spreadsheet to help her monitor adherence to work requirements. The spreadsheet tracks for each client the hours worked, wages earned, and place of employment. Certain fields in the tracking form are color-coded to allow the Housing Program Agent to quickly identify families that participate in FSS and families that are at risk of not meeting the work requirements.
  • If a participant fails to comply with the work requirements, Manassas has developed and consistently follows standard procedures for following up with the participant, including:
    • Sending a written reminder of the requirement to obtain employment within 30 days and complete and to submit a job search log with at least 30 searches;
    • For clients that submit a completed job search log, providing a 30-day extension, if requested by the client in writing.
    • Conducting a “concern appointment” to discuss client issues or challenges; and
    • Providing a final 30-day extension to find employment or initiating the termination process.
  • In addition to the process outlined above, Manassas City DSS also takes the following actions to remind families of the work requirements and services available:
    • Sending a letter to new, unemployed WtW clients to explain work requirements and introduce available services;
    • Sending a second letter to explain the process of submitting documentation of employment; and
    • Sending a monthly reminder notices and special information flyers to WtW clients.
  • The Housing Program Agent maintains an “employment file” for each family that documents all correspondence/communications.

4. Provide a strong support system.

  • The contract of participation states that clients must inform the Agency prior to changing jobs. This enables Manassas City DSS to intervene and help clients through difficult work situations. If a client loses employment, routine procedures are in place to actively encourage clients to search for new employment.
  • Manassas City DSS provides client support primarily through its FSS program and referrals to the Career Connection Center.
  • Manassas strongly encourages its WtW families to participate in FSS, through which WtW families receive intensive case management. WtW families not participating in FSS are tracked and monitored by the PHA, but they do not receive the level of case management that a WtW family enrolled in FSS receives.
  • The FSS Coordinator and Housing Program Agent (who tracks employment status) work closely on client case management, and the FSS Coordinator quickly intervenes when a WtW/FSS family loses employment. The FSS Coordinator plays the role of “Good Cop” by assisting the client with emotional support and encouragement, while the Housing Program Agent plays the “Bad Cop” by monitoring compliance and enforcing requirements. Manassas has found this separation of duties to be highly effective.
  • In addition to the escrow incentive, Manassas creates additional incentives for WtW families to participate in FSS. For example, the work requirement can be reached through a combination of work and education for FSS families.
  • Manassas City’s Career Connection Center – a Virginia One-Stop – is conveniently located in the same building as the housing office. WtW families are strongly encouraged to use the Center to write resumes and cover letters, search the Internet and local listings for job opportunities, speak with a career counselor, and attend career counseling classes.
  • One benefit of its partnership with the Career Connection Center has been the purchase of two Technology Based Solutions software packages that assess client employability. Abilities and Possibilities measures aptitudes, explores possibilities, and rates client interest in a broad range of career fields. Employment Inventory determines job readiness and the likelihood of job retention. A strength of this software is that it can link to an employment database of local job openings/listings and generate job listings that meet a client’s skill set. The FSS Coordinator uses both software assessment tools as part of her efforts to provide employment-related services to WtW families.

Results

  • Despite the challenging work requirements and tight job market, 39 out of 44 WtW families are currently employed and no clients to-date have been terminated from the program due to non-compliance. Staff attributes this success to their close monitoring of client progress and quick interventions when clients struggle.
  • Currently, 50 percent of the participants in the FSS program are WtW families. A total of 21 out of 44 WtW families are currently participating in FSS.
  • The Manassas WtW program has received strong local support, as evidenced by it success in forging partnerships.

Contact: Brenda Knowles, Housing Manager, Manassas City Department of Social Services
8955 Center Street, Manassas, VA 20110
bknowles@ci.manassas.va.us, (703) 361-8277

Source: Onsite interviews with Manassas staff

 
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