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Roundtable 4 Discussion Summary
Challenges and Best Practices of PHAs Running JOINT WtW Programs

(Teleconference Roundtable held September 10, 2002)

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 -   Teleconference Participants
 -   Joint Program Purpose, Structure, and Coordination
 -   Challenges and Tips for Success
 -   Lessons Learned and Recommendations

Teleconference Participants

Representatives from three out of a total of eight joint WtW programs participated:

  • CHAC, Inc. (representing the Metrolinks Joint Program comprised of Chicago/Lake County/DuPage County/Cook County PHAs)
  • Seattle/King County
  • Snohomish (for Everett/Snohomish Joint Program)

Joint Program Purpose, Structure, and Coordination

  • Everett and Snohomish PHAs have long history of collaboration and a close working relationship that extends beyond WtW. Establishing a joint WtW program allowed them to make the WtW vouchers available throughout the county, with no geographic boundaries. Both PHAs share a commitment to self-sufficiency programs, as well as similar philosophies. To operate the WtW program, these two PHAs work with 13 partner agencies that are responsible for referring families, monitoring adherence to WtW family obligations, and providing case management services to WtW families. Everett and Snohomish meet with their partner agencies quarterly to discuss the program.

  • Four Chicago-area PHAs operate the Metrolinks WtW voucher program. Metrolinks was created to address the pronounced mismatch between concentrations of low-income families living in the City of Chicago and the significant growth of jobs in the suburbs. The hope is that the program will give families the opportunity to move closer to employment centers. Metrolinks is operated through a steering committee, which is made up of representatives from each of the four PHAs as well as other partners (all non-service) such as the Chicago Department of Human Services, Department of Workforce Development, and the Metropolitan Planning Council. The steering committee meets monthly. Metrolinks has also hired a project manager through private funds to help administer the joint program.

  • Seattle/King County PHAs have overlapping jurisdictions and developed their joint program to better serve shared clients. The joint approach is important given the fact that, while at least 50 percent of the area's jobs are located in Seattle, approximately 70 percent of the area's population lives in the suburbs. The program is in a state of transition, and the PHAs are looking to add more structure to their WtW programs.

Challenges and Tips for Success

Challenge #1: Ensuring strong communication and coordination

Maintaining good communication and coordination between or among the PHAs operating jointly can be an ongoing challenge. Differences in PHA size, commitment to the program, and capacity to manage the program contribute to breakdowns in communication and coordination. Another factor is the extent to which partner agencies are involved in the decision-making process.

Tip for Success:

  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities. Clearly defining roles and responsibilities of each PHA as well as roles and responsibilities of partner agencies is critical to good communication/coordination.

  • Tap into existing relationships. Having an already established relationship with the other PHA(s) prior to WtW is helpful.

  • Use a liaison. During the first 18 months of WtW voucher program implementation, Everett/Snohomish hired a person to serve as a laison between the two agencies to work out the details of starting-up and administering this new program. This helped to develop and maintain strong lines of communication.

  • Centralize program administration. Metrolinks has hired a project coordinator to help administer the program, including coordination among the four PHAs and partners.

  • Maintain ongoing communication. Both Metrolinks and Everett/Snohomish meet regularly with their partners to discuss program details.

Challenge #2: Supporting client portability

While joint programs should be in a better position to facilitate family moves to areas closer to employment and services, making portability work is still a challenge. Joint PHAs often have inadequate resources to dedicate to mobility activities or lack formal structures/systems to promote portability moves that support the goals of the program.

Tip for Success:

  • Establish clear policies. Establishing portability policies as part of the WtW-family obligations can help to promote moves that support the goals of the program.

  • Maintain regional mindset. CHAC has established a "FSS Knowledge Exchange" whereby area FSS Coordinators meet regularly to form networks to better support families. CHAC hopes that this will serve as a more formal mechanism to support portability.
Challenge #3: Identifying and supporting WtW families

Selecting and keeping families committed to the goals of the program is a constant challenge. Selecting the right families for the program, reducing failure rates and terminations, and encouraging families to maintain employment are all areas in which PHAs are focusing time and money. PHAs without targeted selection criteria and/or WtW family obligations are finding it difficult to put "teeth" into the program. In addition, inconsistencies in the quality of services and/or commitment of partner agencies weaken the program.

Tips for Success:

  • Create incentives for WtW families to meet the program's employment objectives. Encouraging families to participate in FSS and offering homeownership programs to WtW voucher participants are both good ways to create incentives for WtW families to meet the program's employment objectives.

  • Use selection criteria. Everett/Snohomish have recently changed their selection criteria to require families to be working.

  • Meet regularly with families. Even if a PHA does not have work requirements, there is value to meeting with the family to discuss progress, remind them of the program's self-sufficiency goals, and link them to services.

  • Establish work requirements. Although PHAs cannot impose work requirements on existing WtW families, PHAs can consider establishing work requirements for new families entering the program due to turnover or the award of additional WtW vouchers.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • One of the biggest challenges is developing the proper structure that allows a joint program to be a truly regional program.

  • Regional partnerships that have developed because of the joint WtW programs have benefited other PHA programs as well.

  • A strong existing partnership and history of collaboration between the participating PHAs is critical to the success of the joint WtW program. It is difficult to make the program work without similar levels of commitment, philosophies, etc.

  • HUD should consider strategies for making joint programs more meaningful, i.e., allowing for the joint PHAs to control the amount of WtW units allocated to each participating agency.

  • The U.S. Department of Human Services plans to commit TANF funds specifically to the WtW voucher program.
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