February 25, 2013

Evaluating Moving to Work program is difficult job

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MovingToWork

Shane Adams/Flickr Creative Commons/Some rights reserved

By Robert Holly/For CU-CitizenAccess

Officials at The Housing Authority of Champaign County are enthusiastic about the potential of the Moving to Work program, which gives it leeway on how to spend federal money and pushes residents to get jobs and education.

But, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), watchdog for the U.S. Congress, criticized the program in 2011, saying housing officials have no effective way of measuring the program’s success.

“In most cases, the practices chosen were based on the opinions of HUD or contracted staff and largely involved anecdotal (or qualitative) data rather than quantitative data,” the report said.

The report also said the lack of evaluation methods based on hard data could impact the program’s ability to learn from its mistakes. Consequently, “It is limited in its ability to promote useful practices that could be implemented more broadly.”

To improve the program, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), GAO recommended that it improve reporting on its performance, develop a plan for analyzing data, set performance indicators and verify the accuracy of self-reported anecdotal information.

Nonetheless, HUD disagreed with the GAO recommendation to add more performance standards, saying such additions could limit the leeway HUD wanted to give local housing authorities in the first place. HUD also said it would be difficult to establish universal standards for all authorities.

Patty Smith, director of capital programs for Champaign County’s housing authority, disputed the GAO report. She said there is, in fact, an evaluation process, and that the success of the Moving to Work program is based on more than anecdotal information.

HUD requires each Moving to Work agency to team up with a third-party evaluator to measure its level of effectiveness. In Champaign, the authority partnered with The University of Illinois, which will determine whether the program is working once its changes have been given a chance to gain traction.

Smith said there is little data on whether the program is working right now because it is still relatively new. Even though the authority became a Moving to Work agency in 2010, it only started implementing major changes in November.

“As data becomes available, we’ll change our programs to emphasize what is working and get rid of what isn’t working,” Smith said.