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Tacoma Housing Authority tapped for exclusive federal program

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Feb. 3, 2010 at 11:14 am with 1 Comment »
February 3, 2010 3:20 pm

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Friday announced the Tacoma Housing Authority has been selected to participate in an exclusive federal program seeking to innovate housing strategies for low-income families.

The “Moving to Work” program allows chosen housing agencies “to design and test innovative housing strategies that assist lower income families living in public housing or who are assisted through HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program,” according to HUD.

Only about 30 of the nation’s 3,200 public housing agencies had been chosen to participate in the program, THA executive director Michael Mirra said. THA, as well as agencies in Champaign County, Illinois and Orlando, Florida, are the latest applicants to be selected for the program.

The selection “denotes HUD’s confidence in a housing authority’s capabilities and an expectation for innovation,” Mirra wrote in a recent email. “(Moving to Work) status gives a housing authority more regulatory flexibility that allows for innovation beyond the normal rules.”

Here’s the HUD press release announcing THA’s selection into the program (More details of THA’s plans for the program can be found here.):

Tacoma, Champaign County and Orlando housing authorities gain special status

WASHINGTON – U.S. Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Sandra B. Henriquez today announced that three public housing agencies to participate in HUD’s Moving To Work Program (MTW). MTW allows housing agencies to design and test innovative housing strategies that assist lower income families living in public housing or who are assisted through HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Public housing authorities in Tacoma, Champaign County, Illinois and Orlando, Florida; will join 30 other agencies across the U.S. These three housing authorities were selected from among eight agencies that applied for MTW designation late last year and will reap the benefits this designation until 2018.

The other already-approved MTW housing authorities in the Northwest are the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and the Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and King County housing authorities.

“The agencies we selected today clearly demonstrated their ability to create innovative approaches to housing and to form private partnerships that can really build on public dollars,” said Henriquez, who leads HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing. “HUD supports our housing partners to think outside of the box to improve our federal programs to better assist low-income families.”

The MTW program was created in 1996 as a demonstration or “test project” to give housing authorities the opportunity to design and test innovative, locally developed housing and self-sufficiency strategies for low income families participating in HUD’s public housing and Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) programs. HUD exempts these agencies from certain rules and permits them to combine their multiple sources of HUD funding into a single agency-wide funding source. MTW agencies also get considerable flexibility in determining how to use their HUD funding. These agencies are, however, required to serve substantially the same number and type of households as they would without MTW designation. The program aims to accomplish three goals:

— Reduce costs and achieve greater cost effectiveness in federal expenditures;
— Give incentives to families with children where the head of household is working, is seeking work, or is preparing for work by participating in job training, educational programs, or programs that assist people to obtain employment and become economically self-sufficient; and
— Increase housing choices for low-income families.

As part of HUD’s 2009 budget appropriation, Congress directed HUD to add three agencies that met certain criteria to the program. In August 2009, HUD invited eligible public housing agencies to apply for admission to the MTW program. The agencies had to be: high performing under HUD’s Public Housing Assessment System (PHAS); a recipient of a HUD HOPE VI Revitalization grant; and operate no more 5,000 aggregate housing vouchers and public housing units. HUD identified 17 potential applicants and received applications from eight housing authorities. The agencies selected received the highest scores after a ranking and rating system.

The Tacoma Housing Authority and its related tax-credit partnerships own 1,225 public housing units and have 3,500 Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV), serving approximately 12,000 residents or 6% of Tacoma’s population. THA plans to demolish 104 public housing units and replace them with 127 public housing and project-based voucher units. Disposition is planned for 34 scattered site units with 13 units being sold and the remaining 21 units qualifying for market rate rentals with project-based subsidies.

Tacoma Housing Authority has eight strategic objectives designed to achieve the three MTW statutory objectives. These include: housing and real estate development; building strong communities; managing properties in a safe and efficient manner; providing high quality housing and supportive services; becoming a more self-sustaining agency; developing and managing properties in an environmentally responsible manner; providing quality information about housing authority activities and residents served and housing and community development; and creating and maintaining excellent administrative systems with highly qualified staff for effective customer service.

To encourage self-sufficiency the Authority plans to replace the mandatory earned income disallowance with flexible enrollment in the Family Self-Sufficiency Program, redefine adjusted income and expenses, use agency resources to fund resident training programs, extend allowable tenant absence from units and create a special rental assistance program with McCarver Elementary School and Tacoma Public Schools.

Activities planned to increase housing choices include a local project-based voucher program and allowing transfers between public housing and the voucher program. THA plans to reduce costs through triennial recertifications for fixed-income households, institute local verification policies, modify the housing choice voucher inspection process and limit the number of moves for HCV households.

Notable Proposed MTW Initiatives

Creation of a Digital Dashboard – The Authority intends to design a digital dashboard to track performance measures for its strategic objectives and operations. The performance measures that will be captured include: earned income from different populations, savings rates, educational
outcomes, number of households by subpopulations served, metrics for housing stability, per unit cost of operations, per voucher cost of operations, metrics of individual properties and portfolio aggregates. This tool will allow staff to identify the successes and failures for different activities and focus resources where they are needed.

Use Combined MTW Funds to Fund Resident Training Programs – This initiative will require the trainee to engage in training activities and be tested at the end of each activity. If an employee passes each phase they will become a THA employee. MTW authority is needed to have the funding flexibility to train residents for these positions and assign them administrative functions within the agency.

McCarver Elementary School Project: Pilot Housing and Education Program – This initiative would aims to stabilize families through a special rental assistance program in partnership with Tacoma Public

Schools to assist families at McCarver Elementary School and stabilize student turnover which was 121% for the 2007-2008 school year. Rental assistance will be provided for 50 families for the duration of the school year with the expected outcome of higher student performance. THA will also explore two related initiatives of conditioning assistance on parent’s commitment to their children’s education and cooperating with the school to provide matching funds to for these types of activities.

Significant Partnerships

Tacoma Housing Authority uses both public and private community partnerships for the full range of its activities. Partnerships include the City of Tacoma, Tacoma Public Schools, Seattle Housing Authority, king County Housing Authority, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Building Changes, The Helping Hand House, Catholic Community Services, the College Success Foundation and Tacoma 360.
Matching Housing Assistance with Supportive Services – The Authority matches housing resources with supportive services in a partnership with Helping Hands House.

Project Basing Vouchers to Finance New Construction and Supportive Services – In this initiative, the Authority partners with Intercommunity Mercy Housing, Tacoma Rescue mission, Harborview Manor and other organizations to finance new housing and make it affordable in the long-term for poor families.

Washington Families Fund program – THA participates in this program with the State of Washington, other local authorities and service organizations to provide housing and supportive services to homeless families with minor children.

Other Programs – These include the Family Unification Program Voucher Program, Sound Families and Washington Families Fund Partnership.

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