Welfare Reform:

Changes Will Further Shape the Roles of Housing Agencies and HUD

RCED-98-148: Published: Jun 25, 1998. Publicly Released: Jun 25, 1998.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the implications of welfare reform on public housing agencies and their tenants, focusing on the: (1) impact of welfare reform on the revenue, employment status of tenants, and roles of selected housing agencies; and (2) Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) role in assisting housing agencies and their clients as they adapt to welfare reform.

GAO noted that: (1) it is too early to be certain what impact welfare reform will have on the revenue of the housing agencies that GAO selected, the employment status of their tenants, and the roles of these housing agencies; (2) most of the agencies had not attempted to estimate welfare reform's impact on their revenue for multiple reasons, including a lack of resources to undertake detailed analyses of the impact of their state's welfare reform plan; (3) welfare rolls had declined in the states that GAO visited, and state officials described services being provided to help Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients overcome obstacles to employment; (4) housing agency officials, residents, and others believed that tenants would face significant challenges in moving from welfare to work; (5) their concerns are supported by research, based on past behavior, which shows that welfare recipients with housing assistance tend to have longer stays on welfare than those without housing assistance; (6) executive directors recognized that the role of housing agencies increasingly includes providing social services as well as housing; (7) however, agencies' social service activities were generally operated separately from states' welfare reform efforts; (8) the agencies that GAO visited had limited involvement in their state's welfare reform efforts; (9) state and local government offices with welfare reform responsibilities rarely targeted funds and programs to public housing developments; however, TANF recipients with housing assistance are eligible for the same services as other TANF recipients; (10) HUD has a smaller role in welfare reform than the states or some other federal agencies; however, HUD said that it is committed to making welfare reform work; (11) HUD's role is driven, in part, by the large numbers of tenants who currently receive welfare benefits whose incomes will decline if they do not find jobs or other sources of income within the time limits; (12) HUD's own financial status depends, to some extent, on these tenants' success in replacing welfare benefits with earnings; (13) to date, HUD has emphasized the importance of welfare reform in at least two strategic planning documents, issued guidance on welfare reform, redirected some programs to focus on welfare reform, and begun to coordinate its welfare reform activities internally and externally; and (14) HUD's strategic plans do not include a comprehensive strategy for bringing together HUD's resources for welfare reform and the funds and programs available from the states and other federal agencies.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Agency representatives discussed steps HUD has taken to increase communications with field offices and housing agencies and ways the agency has attempted to clarify its role in welfare reform. For example, HUD staged a national Section 8 Summit for housing authority and HUD field office staff. As part of the summit, agency officials conducted sessions that focused on HUD's role in welfare reform, and discussed how agency programs can be used as a springboard to self-sufficiency. During the summit HUD officials clarified and publicized potential linkages between housing and welfare initiatives. To identify sources of information on welfare reform, HUD's Office of Public and Indian Housing developed and distributed to HUD and housing authority officials a "Guide to Best Practices." The guide provide examples of techniques communities are using to foster economic self-sufficiency of public housing residents in connection with welfare to work activities.

    Recommendation: To assist public housing agencies in their efforts to help residents move from welfare to work, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should increase communications with field offices and housing agencies to clarify HUD's role in welfare reform, explain how current programs can be used to complement welfare reform efforts, and identify sources of information about other federal welfare reform efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HUD has made summary records of data on public and Indian housing projects and their tenants available to the housing agencies and to the public. This data includes nationwide summaries by housing project, housing agency, and geographic area. The summaries provide information on the number of housing units, average tenant income, percent of single parent households, etc. Among other things, the summaries were designed to assist housing agencies with management and welfare to work issues, according to HUD. In addition, HUD published a guidebook for public housing agencies that details 25 programs designed to help public assistance clients comply with welfare reform rules.

    Recommendation: To assist public housing agencies in their efforts to help residents move from welfare to work, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should provide additional technical assistance and data on tenants' characteristics along with guidance that would help housing agencies use the data to assist in managing the units and in determining what impact welfare reform might have on the agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HUD believes it has taken steps to involve its field office structure in promoting the benefits of using assisted housing developments as places to deliver welfare reform services. In its strategic plan, HUD included as an objective helping poor and disadvantaged families and individuals become self-sufficient and develop assets. The plan does not emphasize the role of HUD field offices in promoting the benefits of using assisted housing developments as places to deliver services. However, it discusses the need for HUD to be involved in community-wide planning efforts and to develop strong cooperative relationships with other local agencies so that HUD's clients can access all available services. In addition, HUD said that its Community Builders are working closely with local entities to help facilitate community-wide planning of welfare reform efforts, particularly in areas of the country such as the Northeast where a large proportion of tenants in assisted housing rely on cash assistance.

    Recommendation: To assist public housing agencies in their efforts to help residents move from welfare to work, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should develop a comprehensive strategy that relies on each field office to promote the benefits of using assisted housing developments as places to deliver services related to welfare reform and to help link other field office and housing agency staff with federal, state, and local welfare reform efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

 

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