MTW: Platform for Effective Innovation


Pat Lewis,


Washington D.C. – September 20, 2010 --  A major report to Congress on the Moving to Work (MTW) program finds that housing authorities are serving more families, improving residents’ quality of life, and preserving  housing by operating under the program. The report, prepared by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), concludes that the program be extended and doubled in size.

The MTW demonstration, authorized in 1996, allows selected housing authorities to develop locally-designed programs outside HUD’s one-size-fits-all regulations.

“The lessons learned under MTW are that locally designed programs, with input from stakeholders, can significantly improve lives and make better use of existing resources,” said Sunia Zaterman, Executive Director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities.  “This is especially important at a time when demand is surging.”

According to the Census Bureau 43.6 million people, or 1 in 7, were in poverty last year, the highest rate since 1994. Communities are also experiencing a marked increase in homelessness, particularly among families.  Finding strategies to preserve public housing has been a key issue for the administration: 150,000 units have been lost in the last decade because of a lack of capital funding.

The HUD report, Moving to Work: Interim Policy Applications and the Future of the Demonstration, found that many PHAs used the program to increase the number of families they served. For example, the Charlotte Housing Authority plans to create an additional 1,000 units through MTW.

MTW is also what made it possible for the success of Chicago’s “Plan for Transformation” to revitalize 25,000 units of public housing, and Atlanta’s “Blueprint” for replacing all obsolete and distressed housing with new mixed-income communities.

Another critical area addressed by MTW agencies was rent reform. The Cambridge Housing Authority, in close consultation with residents, developed a tiered rent structure designed to introduce incentives for tenants to save money. The new plan resulted in increased tenant income and savings, and a 4% increase in rent paid to the authority. A streamlined income assessment process saved significant staff time as well.

Many PHAs are using their flexibility to expand services beyond traditional program administration, partnering with community organizations to reach special populations: victims of domestic violence, homeless families and veterans, mothers returning to the community from prison.  

Oakland’s Maximizing Opportunities for Mothers to Succeed (MOMS) program, King County’s Sound Families Program and Housing First Pilot are among those recognized in the report as successful innovations in this realm.

“The local partnerships being formed by authorities reinforce the importance of combining resources across funding silos, something we are now starting to see at the national level,” said Ms. Zaterman. “The findings in this report will be invaluable to discussions about how we continue to build housing and supportive programs in ways that benefit local communities.”

During an industry briefing on the report, HUD staff said the wealth of data was providing the department with “compelling results,” and more information about which programs work, and the factors of success, than virtually any other HUD program.