Problem Identification:
HABC was an early participant in HUD’s Moving to Opportunity (MTO) demonstration, and is currently involved in four mobility initiatives in an effort to help families move to areas of lower poverty concentration. The four initiatives include:- an internal program operated within HABC for new admissions to the Section 8 program, including families relocating from projects slated for demolition;- a HUD-funded Regional Opportunity Counseling program for current participants (contracted by HABC to the Community Assistance Network);

– a court-ordered mobility program for public housing residents and applicants (contracted by HABC to Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc.); and

– the court-ordered development of project-based voucher units in non-impacted areas throughout the region (management contracted by HABC to the Innovative Housing Institute).

The activities of these programs are poorly coordinated, leading to duplication of services.

The effectiveness of the internal mobility program operated by HABC is difficult to determine, as HABC has not adopted performance standards or measures, and does not monitor concentrations of Section 8 utilization. Moreover, the mobility program operates independently of both Section 8 and relocation program staff. As a result, services are not provided to all voucher recipients and are not coordinated with relocation activities. For example, HABC proceeded with simultaneous relocation activities at two HOPE VI sites before filling critical mobility staff positions, making it impossible to provide promised services to the displaced residents and slowing demolition activities. At the same time, the Regional Opportunity Counseling Program has been underutilized due to a lack of referrals from HABC.

Recommended Actions:
Implement actions, in conjunction with internal and contracted mobility programs, to overcome barriers to the use of vouchers in non-impacted areas, including:

– Reviewing the extent of duplication among mobility programs, and determine where efficiency and effectiveness could be improved by coordination and/or consolidation of programs;

– Monitoring spatial patterns of Section 8 utilization through the use of a graphic computer application and set performance goals for internal mobility staff;

– Integrating internal mobility counseling with all Section 8 and relocation activities, and provide housing search and mobility counseling to all relocating families and all households receiving vouchers;

– Identifying funding sources to support a free-market landlord incentive program that will actively recruit owners in non-impacted areas, provide tenant counseling and support, and establish a credit guarantee fund that will offset losses sustained by owners and guarantee full payment of security deposits for families paying them on an installment basis;

– Implementing a program of owner outreach, especially in areas of job growth, with a focus on faith-based organizations and the business community;

– Coordinating mobility activities with city and regional transportation plans in order to reduce the impediment to mobility created by inadequate transportation; and

– In conjunction with the Innovative Housing Institute (developer for the Section 8 project-based units), the Flag House HOPE VI mixed-income developer, and the Homeownership Institute (HCD), design and implement a Section 8 homeownership program to support mobility.

Organizational, Service Improvement

Function/Operational Area:
HABC/Section 8

Estimated Annual Impact:
While the immediate financial impact cannot be estimated, implementation should lead to expanded housing opportunities for Section 8 participants and reduced negative impact of Section 8 on impacted neighborhoods.

Estimated Implementation Costs:
$1.1 million for a three-year free-market initiative and evaluation (No cost to HABC)

Barriers to Implementation:
Locating funding source for free-market initiative.
No other barriers to improving the quality of HABC’s mobility efforts. However, discrimination based on race and class, the lack of affordable housing and transportation in surrounding suburban communities, and participants’ own locational preferences will continue to present barriers to participant mobility.

Projected Implementation:
2 years

Next Steps:
Focus recruitment efforts for Section 8 senior leadership on candidates with strong experience in the successful operation of mobility programs. Evaluate cost and results of mobility programs (internal and contracted) and the extent of duplication of services.

If HABC is going to be one of the ‘ten best housing authorities in the country’, it will have to be regarded as the very best in some aspect of housing. The length and breadth of HABC’s voluntary and court-ordered mobility efforts would appear to present the opportunity for HABC not only to achieve some level of expertise in this area, but also to provide insight and leadership to PHAs across the country that are grappling with the implementation of HUD’s recent focus on mobility and de-concentration. Currently, this opportunity is precluded by ineffective program administration, undocumented results, and an absence of objective evaluation of its efforts.