Tag Archives: HOPE VI

HUD Gets Back in the Job Training Biz: “Jobs Plus Pilot Program” NOFA Released

HUD just issued a NOFA (Notice of Funding Availability, which is HUD-speak for RFP) for the Jobs Plus Pilot Program. There’s $24 million up for grabs, with grants to $3 million, for Public Housing Authorities/Indian Housing Authorities (PHAs/IHAs). While the issuance of a new HUD NOFA is not usually all that interesting, this one is because it represents a shift in HUD’s priorities.

As I wrote last February, job training is one of the current favored project concepts in grant making. There are at least 47 federal job training programs, or possibly 48 including the newly minted Jobs Plus. You may not remember, though I do, that President Obama made a big fuss about job training in his most recent State of the Union address and vowed to unleash Vice President Biden to study federal job training initiatives in hopes of simplifying things.

Right.

That was the last I heard of this noble quest, and, as far as I can tell, the herd of federal job training programs continue to thunder across the plain. It’s job training business as usual, with the random new program tossed in for good measure.

This is not, however, what made me notice this notice.

At one time HUD had several competitive job training programs, including our old friend YouthBuild, which HUD managed for about 12 years. Suddenly, in the waning days of the reign of George Bush the Younger, Congress got the bright idea that maybe it isn’t such a good approach to have HUD, which is supposed to be involved in housing, fund job training programs. Not a bad reform, since HUD’s job training grant programs were not coordinated with other federal job training programs, particularly the ones operated by the Department of Labor. YouthBuild and other HUD job training programs were eventually transferred to DOL in a previous effort to “simplify things.” Now that eight years or so of DOL running former HUD job training programs have passed, it seems perfectly appropriate to make things more complex again by having HUD manage yet another job training program.

A cursory look at the Jobs Plus Pilot reveals that there’s not much new here, since it’s more or less a rehash of the “workfare” job training concept that emerged from the 1996 compromise Welfare Reform legislation negotiated by President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich. The basic idea was (and is) to tie public income supports, like TANF, to job training. This naturally works better when the economy is producing lots of entry-level jobs.

In the case of Jobs Plus, the target population is residents of the 250 or so remaining large public housing projects* that survived the lunacy of the now almost forgotten HOPE VI program that funded the demolition of thousands of public housing units across America. Even though we wrote some HOPE VI proposals, it always struck me as incredibly stupid to tear down the housing of last resort for the poorest Americans. The good news now is that, if your public housing development still stands, HUD is willing to toss you a job training bone. Of course, there’s nothing to prevent public housing residents from accessing the myriad of job training programs surrounding them. As a grant writer, however, I agree and have to ask, “why have 47 job training programs when 48 will do?”


* When writing a grant proposal about public housing, never use the term “housing project.” Instead, these are always referred to by the more PC “housing development.” Of course, I’m a geezer who grew up in the very poor North Minneapolis neighborhood adjacent to the huge Sumner Field Homes and associated public housing high rises.

I used to play at the Sumner Field park and kid and adults referred to this area as “the projects.” I’ve been to re-education camp since then and banished “projects” from my proposals. By the way, if you follow this link you’ll learn that a huge HOPE VI grant was used to destroy the entire Sumner Field Homes and associated buildings in 1998, displacing 97% of the over 3,300 poor residents in the name of the “new urbanism.” Not to worry: a much smaller mixed-use development replaced it, but there is no word on what happened to the thousands of residents who were tossed out.

Reformers come and go, but HUD abides

Sudhir Venkatesh*, a Columbia University Sociologist, wrote “To Fight Poverty, Tear Down HUD,” and in it he suggests imploding HUD (like the infamous Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project) to increase regional collaboration. Having just finished a HUD proposal, it made me think about HUD’s evolution and previous attempts to reform the agency. Venkatesh gives a brief overview of HUD’s emergence in 1965 and its mission to carry on the Progressive Era’s notion that slums are the root of urban problems, rather than the inhabitants—see here for detail. Still, Venkatesh argues that HUD had outlived its usefulness and needs to be eliminated or reconstructed.

He uses the HOPE VI Program as a supportive example. Jake briefly covered Hope VI in “On Gangs and Proposals,” and the program more or less pays housing authorities to tear down public housing and replace projects with “mixed-income” developments, resulting in outcomes like those described in “American Murder Mystery.” Regardless of whether Venkatesh thinks HOPE VI and other competitive** HUD programs can be used to dismantle the agency, he’s wrong about the potential for reform because of the Godzilla of HUD, The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program.

CDBG agglomerates dozens of competitive HUD programs as they existed in the early 1970s into a single grant, awarded without competition to eligible cities and counties. Being designated as “CDBG-eligible” is the local jurisdictional equivalent of being elected Prom Queen. CDBG jurisdictions can spend the money however they want, provided that the use can somehow be justified under one of the eight statutory CDBG requirements—meaning that just about anything can be made CDBG eligible through the jurisdiction’s “Five-Year Comprehensive Plan” and associated “Annual Action Plans.”***

Thus, local officials often use CDBG funds as “walking around money” for favored nonprofits in the name of “developing viable communities,” which is the stated purpose of CDBG. The witch’s brew of local politicians, other people’s money, hand-in-the-till nonprofits and a plethora of interest groups involved in CDBG means that there is zero chance of HUD going away. I’ve watched the “let’s get rid of HUD” movement for years, starting in 1980 with the Reagan Revolution**** (he gave up), Jack Kemp’s appointment as HUD Secretary by Bush 41 (failed at achieving promised reforms), and most recently, HUD being on Newt Gingrich’s hit list in 1994 (HUD survived to fight another day, while Newtie ended up bloviating on Fox News and writing historical novels of questionable literary merit).

Not only has HUD lived on, with the help of its legion of CDBG-engorged supporters, but it actually continues to grow, throwing off new programs like the small monsters sloughing off the Big Guy in my favorite recent Big Animal movie, Cloverfield. We’ve come full circle: the CDBG program was created to unify a bunch of categorical programs to give local officials the ability to address their pressing local needs, and now the CDBG program, along with a couple dozen assorted competitive programs, hangs on the HUD funding tree like Christmas ornaments.

While Venkatesh can speculate on dismantling HUD or using the block grant approach “to provide incentives for municipal and county governments to collaborate,” HUD is a permanent fixture of the grant landscape because it was created to solve some of the problem he identifies, and the result of a supersized CDBG program is likely to be even more walking around money and self-interested entities at the CDBG trough, not more collaboration between cities and counties. To paraphrase, “Reformers Rail, but HUD Abides.”


* Venkatesh wrote a terrific book on life on the streets in Chicago’s Southside, Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, which mirrors my experience growing up and later working as a community organizing intern in the North Minneapolis ghetto. Would-be grant writers should read it.

** Grant writing tip: government agencies mostly make two kinds of grants, formula (the grantee does nothing to get them money other than open its mouth like Jabba the Hut) and competitive (applicants submit proposals that are evaluated against one another). One will occasionally see a hybrid version, a competitive process in which the grant amount is based on a formula of some sort, but most grant writers won’t encounter this chimera.

*** I’ve read dozens of Comprehensive Plans from all around the country over the years, and, despite supposedly being individually written to reflect the jurisdiction’s unique problems, they are basically all the same—a rehash of census data, oddball stats on homeless issues and the like, and a pastiche of platitudes designed to get HUD to okay the plan and uncork CDBG funds. In other words, the local CDBG planning process is at best a cookbook exercise.

**** See Stockman’s The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed, which is a great political read and covers the first failed attempt to disassemble HUD. Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men complements it.