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Roundtable 3 Discussion Summary
FSS & Case Management of WtW Families

(Teleconference Roundtable held September 5, 2002)

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 -   Teleconference Participants
 -   Challenges and Tips for Success

Note: this teleconference was split into two teleconferences - one for small PHAs and one for larger PHAs. Given the similarity of issues and solutions between these groups, this summary combines information from both teleconferences.

Teleconference Participants

  • Atlanta Housing Authority (GA)
  • Chattanooga Housing Authority (TN)
  • City of Niagara Falls Housing Authority (NY)
  • Fresno (CA)
  • Hamilton County FSS Program (OH)
  • Houston Housing Authority (TX)
  • James City County (VA)
  • Lakeland Housing Authority (CA)
  • LA City Housing Authority (CA)
  • Monmouth County Housing Authority (NJ)
  • New Hampshire HFA (NH)
  • Perth Amboy Housing Authority (NJ)
  • Sacramento Housing Authority (CA)
  • Umatilla CHA (OR)

Challenges and Tips for Success

Challenge #1: How do you provide case management with limited staff and funding?

Agencies find it difficult to case manage all WtW & FSS clients with limited funding and resources. They are looking for tips on how to stretch resources, find new resources, or simply manage resources more efficiently. Many noted that their FSS programs are already at-capacity, and that TANF case managers have too heavy of a caseload to provide any real support to WtW families. Moreover, only families currently on TANF receive TANF case management, which means that a lot of WtW families do not receive any support.

Tips for Success:

  • Contract with outside organizations. After issuing a RFP, one PHA hired non-profit case managers to provide case management. These partners are paid annually per client, based on a fee set by the PHA for each family. This PHA has currently imposed a cap of $3,000 per client. Another PHA contracts with Easter Seals. This PHA pays a flat monthly fee ($3,600) to their contractors for the case management of 55 clients. Yet another PHA contracts out administration of their FSS program to their local TANF agency, creating a more seamless approach for their clients. It also allows each agency to focus on their "service of specialty"-housing for the PHA and case management for the TANF agency.

  • Leverage services available through FSS. Agencies also encourage WtW families to participate in FSS and then provide case management through FSS. Agencies may apply for additional funds for FSS Coordinators/Case Managers, as needed.

  • Maintain TANF and other partnerships. Although some TANF agencies are not able to provide the level of case management and support PHAs need, PHAs indicate that it is still important to develop a good rapport with TANF and other partners, particularly to help with referrals. PHAs on the call indicated that it helps to have a streamlined referral process as opposed to just pulling families from a big pool (e.g., the PHA waiting list) and then trying to verify eligibility.

  • Be creative in seeking new partners. One PHA suggested partnering with community-based organizations, such as Goodwill and Catholic Charities, for case management and other support.

  • Explore other sources of funding. One PHA indicated that it received a grant from the Department of Labor to hire a job developer. TANF is also currently under reauthorization and some lawmakers are trying to make the program more flexible so that funding can more easily be used for housing assistance. In addition to other Federal agencies, local foundation or private businesses may be willing to provide support to WtW programs.

  • Assign case managers by geographic region. Some large agencies assign case management services to families based on where the families are living and working to more efficiently utilize their resources.

Challenge #2: How do you know what services your WtW families need?

In order to help WtW families succeed in obtaining self-sufficiency, agencies first need to identify the areas in which families need assistance. Each family has different needs and identifying those needs can be challenging.

Tips for Success:

  • Provide needs assessments as part of case management services. Needs assessments usually are the initial step in the case management process. At least one agency provides needs assessments that clients can complete online. This agency has partnered with another agency to provide a computer-lease program. These online assessments as well as self-sufficiency and skills classes give WtW families more opportunities for success.

  • Encourage partner agencies to help with families' needs assessments. Some local TANF agencies provide needs assessments and agree to provide housing agencies with information on mutual clients. Other partner agencies may be able to assess clients' needs as well and share this information with PHA staff.

Challenge #3: How do you motivate clients to participate in FSS?

PHAs sometimes struggle to involve clients in FSS. One PHA staff member mentioned that she had been pushing the FSS program since first contact with her families, but was having difficulty getting clients to enroll in the program. She emphasized to families that it was not a lifetime choice, and she also explained to families that they would not be at risk of losing their voucher for failing to fulfill the objectives in the FSS Plan.

Tips for Success:

  • Develop written marketing materials that families can read at home. Families may feel uncomfortable signing up for something on-the-spot. Providing take-home information (brochures, etc.) allows families to digest the information and PHAs to follow up and answer any questions.

  • Use marketing materials to explain the benefits of the program, including the accumulation of assets through an escrow account and access to benefits and services via the FSS case manager. Marketing materials should also explain the Individual Training and Services Plan, and reinforce that a family cannot lose their housing by failing to fulfill the objectives of their ITSP. Finally, "testimonials" from past or current FSS clients may be helpful—especially families that have been able to save a significant amount of money through a FSS-sponsored escrow account.

  • Recruit an existing FSS client to talk to prospective clients about the program. There is sometimes a sense of distrust or skepticism on the part of residents towards PHA staff; families may respond more positively if encouraged by their peers to participate in the FSS program.

Challenge #4: How do you ensure that WtW families meet the goals and requirements of your program?

Some WtW participants seem unwilling to fulfill contract obligations and uphold WtW employment goals. As a result, some agencies spend considerable time and resources trying to encourage these families to comply with program requirements. (For more information on this topic, view our summary for Roundtable 7: Family Obligations, Terminations, and Contracts of Participation.)

Tips for Success:

  • Develop work requirements and/or family obligations for new participants. Although requirements/obligations cannot be enforced retroactively for families already enrolled in the WtW program, developing a work requirement policy or Contract of Participation can help a PHA enforce employment and other program goals going-forward. Once the PHA's admin plan has been updated to reflect the work requirements, all new families are subject to these requirements.

  • Make contract obligations simple. Some agencies help WtW families fulfill contract obligations by making sure obligations aren't too rigorous, difficult, or unreasonable for families to achieve. For example, some agencies have made their WtW requirements the same as their FSS requirements so that families don't have conflicting or overburdening obligations.

  • Provide flexible ways for the obligations to be met. One agency offers online classes that participants can complete as their schedule allows.

  • Emphasize the positive benefits that occur as WtW participants' family obligations/work requirements are met.

  • Establish IDA programs to provide additional incentives for struggling families to become self-sufficient.

  • Encourage existing WtW clients to consent to the new employment policy as well. Once the policy is developed, a PHA can ask existing families to sign a voluntary agreement or contract. The PHA will not have any legal authority to enforce the requirements, but it may serve as an incentive to families. NOTE: If a PHA has space in its existing housing choice voucher program, it may be able to transfer WtW families who are not interested in signing a contract of participation to a regular Section 8 voucher. The PHA could then enroll new WtW families under the obligatory work requirements.

  • Monitor clients for compliance with work requirements. In order for a work requirement to be effective, it is necessary to monitor compliance with that work requirement. At the same time, it is also necessary to work with families to ensure they receive the assistance they need and to ensure that policies are enforced consistently by PHA staff. All of this takes time and effort, so it is important to devise a strategy before implementing a new policy. One PHA indicated that they use a matrix to help monitor their families. The first of each month, the WtW coordinator, the employment developer, and other key staff sit down together and update their matrix. This allows them to identify what they need to do each month to help their families. Others mentioned that re-certification provides a good opportunity to connect with families, which could be supplemented by mail surveys, newsletters, and phone calls in-between.

  • Clarify if and how the work requirement policy applies to other adults living in the household. (e.g., spouse or partner, adult children) Typically the work requirement only applies to the head of household, but a PHA may decide to craft its policy differently.

  • Ensure your policy is legally binding. Have PHA lawyers review your work requirement policy and contract of participation to avoid any legal entanglements.
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