Building New Partnerships for Employment

Collaboration Among Agencies and Public Housing Residents in the Jobs-Plus Demonstration

By Linda Yuriko Kato, James A. Riccio

To combat joblessness and poverty in low-income communities, multiple organizations must work together with local residents. But productive collaboration on such complex issues is notoriously difficult to create and sustain, partly because partners often have different priorities and agendas. Learning from real-world experiences is critical if this strategy is to work.

This report provides a detailed look at a major current collaborative effort: the Jobs-Plus Community Revitalization Initiative for Public Housing Families (or Jobs-Plus). It shows how the seven cities in this national demonstration have attempted to build inclusive and productive partnerships to design, fund, and operate an ambitious, place-based employment initiative for residents of selected public housing developments. The lessons drawn have important practical implications for a wide range of community-building and other initiatives.

Jobs-Plus seeks to boost employment among all working-age residents through employment and training services, financial work incentives (especially by limiting rent increases for employed residents), neighbor-to-neighbor outreach, and other efforts to promote and support work. In each of the participating cities, selected in 1997, the partners have included the public housing authority, the welfare department, local workforce development agencies, resident leaders, and other local organizations. The chosen cities were Baltimore, Chattanooga, Cleveland, Dayton, Los Angeles, St. Paul, and Seattle. Cleveland and Seattle are no longer in the demonstration, but Seattle is still operating its Jobs-Plus program.

Among their key challenges and accomplishments to date are:

  • Collaborative governance and management. The collaboratives' experiences point to the value of: vesting governing authority in a core group of active partners while keeping the larger group in the dialogue in other ways; establishing explicit lines of authority between the governing partners and program staff; devising better mechanisms for holding staff - and partners - accountable; and distinguishing funding and management of the collaborative from that of the program.
  • Collaboration in service delivery. Some sites have made considerable progress in building an integrated network of services with close coordination among frontline staff. Such coordination is critical in order to serve and monitor residents effectively across a geographically dispersed network of providers. Toward this end, agencies have modified staff training procedures and expanded their interagency data-sharing efforts. Moreover, some sites have changed broader agency policies as a result of their participation in the collaboratives. Most welfare agencies, for instance, have allowed residents to meet their welfare-to-work obligations by participating in Jobs-Plus.
  • Housing authority adaptations. Jobs-Plus challenged housing authorities' nearly exclusive focus on housing management and traditional isolation from the activities of welfare and workforce development agencies. Examples of important housing authority adaptations include efforts to: improve internal coordination (e.g., to implement the rent incentives or link employment assistance to efforts to head off evictions); "fast track" internal decisionmaking for Jobs-Plus; transfer Jobs-Plus funds to independent agencies to address procurement constraints; and permit other partners influence over key hiring decisions, even for staff on the housing authority's payroll.
  • Residents' involvement. Residents have had a significant influence in shaping the Jobs-Plus programs, despite sometimes tense relationships between residents and housing authorities. Some sites have succeeded in reaching beyond traditional leaders in building the technical capacity of residents to assume specific leadership and staff roles in the program.

The Jobs-Plus demonstration was conceived by its two principal funders - the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and The Rockefeller Foundation - along with MDRC, which is managing and evaluating the demonstration. It is supported as well by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Labor; the Joyce, James Irvine, Surdna, Northwest Area, Annie E. Casey, Stuart, and Washington Mutual Foundations; and BP. Future reports will examine the program's rent incentives, residents' participation in Jobs-Plus, other implementation results, and effects on employment, welfare, and quality of life. The present report was written by Linda Y. Kato and James A. Riccio.


Kato, Linda and James Riccio. 2001. Building New Partnerships for Employment. New York: MDRC.