Promoting Employment in Public Housing Communities

Learning from the Jobs-Plus Demonstration

By James A. Riccio, Steven Bliss

This policy brief is one in a continuing series that offers emerging insights from the Jobs-Plus demonstration. Sponsored by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, The Rockefeller Foundation, and other public and private funders listed at the end of this document, Jobs-Plus is an intensive, “place-based” initiative for increasing employment among public housing residents. MDRC is managing the demonstration and evaluating the program. This brief describes the people and places Jobs-Plus is trying to help, and it outlines the demonstration’s principal goals and evolving strategies.

The problem of concentrated poverty and joblessness in U.S. cities has intensified in recent decades, with the number of high-poverty neighborhoods more than doubling between 1970 and 1990. Poverty and unemployment are especially acute in public housing developments, many of which are among the most economically disadvantaged communities in the nation. In the current environment of time-limited welfare, the need to boost employment among families in public housing — many of whom have long histories of welfare receipt — takes on special urgency. Yet in some cities welfare recipients living in public housing appear to be some of the hardest people to employ among welfare recipients and other low-income groups overall.

Jobs-Plus is a national demonstration project designed to test a multifaceted approach to transforming low-work, high-welfare public housing developments into high-work, low-welfare communities. Initiated in 1996, Jobs-Plus aims to increase employment dramatically by integrating three components — extensive employment-related services, new financial work incentives, and a “community support for work” component — and targeting them toward all working-age residents of participating housing developments. By doing so, Jobs-Plus hopes to move large numbers of residents into steady employment and improve the quality of life in these developments.

Riccio, James and Steven Bliss. 2001. “Promoting Employment in Public Housing Communities.” New York: MDRC.