Worksystems, Inc., a consortium of public housing authorities (PHAs) and workforce investment boards (WIBs) on the Oregon-Washington state border, used its Workforce Innovation Fund (WIF) grant to establish Housing Works, an initiative designed to streamline workforce services for public housing residents and to better prepare residents for in-demand careers in construction, healthcare, manufacturing, and office work.

The consortium WDBs trained PHA case managers about the workforce system so that staff could assess residents’ employment readiness needs and connect them to appropriate workforce opportunities. Enrolled residents participated in career mapping workshops and received an individual resource planning session with case managers and WorkSource (a division of Oregon Employment Department) liaisons. Residents also completed a career and resource plan that was updated as residents progressed through the program. Participants enrolled directly in Career Link, a 40-hour course focused on developing residents’ life skills while receiving intensive case management, and also engaged in activities such as workshops, occupational coaching, skills training, internships, and on the job training.

The Housing Works program had four overarching goals:

  1. Increase the collaboration between the Housing Works region’s WDBs and PHAs.
  2. Increase the efficiency of the region’s WDB and PHA services.
  3. Increase the earning potential of public housing authority residents.
  4. Accelerate a path to self-sufficiency for public housing authority residents.

The evaluation was multi-pronged, addressing the implementation, impact, and costs of the program. The research findings were crafted to support decision-making about program improvement, sustainability, and replication, and to yield insights into participant outcomes. The evaluation relied on diverse research methods that included gathering primary data from site visits, key stakeholder interviews, participant focus groups, a series of participant surveys, employer surveys, and comparison group surveys. Program and administrative data sources included multiple management information systems and wage record data from two states. The program exceeded its target of 210 enrollees with 308 participants who earned 536 credentials, including 309 industry certifications.

Major Findings & Recommendations

The implementation evaluation found that participants valued the services and training received, the cohort approach, and expressed the most interest in health care occupational training out of all available areas. Overall, participants were satisfied with the program at the program exit but were less satisfied a year after exiting, especially if they were not employed. In particular, participants were less satisfied with their ability to obtain employment one year after enrolling in the program. While the program met its targets for participant enrollment in occupational training, it fell short for the number of participants completing internships or on the job training opportunities, due in part to the challenge in finding construction and manufacturing job opportunities.

The impact study found that participants were 20 percentage points more likely to be employed in the first quarter after exit than PHA residents who did not participate in the program. Evaluators did not find statistically significant differences in the 2nd or 3rd quarters after exit. These differences may be driven in part by differences in participant characteristics between the two groups. There were no statistically significant differences between the Housing Works group and the comparison group on earnings in the 2nd or 3rd quarters after program exit.

Evaluator recommendations for replication of Housing Works include the following:

  1. Using the cohort-based model
  2. Offering training that can be completed within the grant period
  3. Ensuring participant eligibility in particular industries (e.g., does a criminal record prevent employment?)
  4. Having a history of cooperation among partners