‘Move to Work’ program attributed to higher average household incomes in Champaign County

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HACC

The Housing Authority of Champaign County's (HACC) website.

The national average income per household receiving assistance from a housing authority is approximately $12,000 a year, but in Champaign County the average income per household is $17,500.

David Northern, Chief Executive Officer of the Housing Authority of Champaign County, attributes the higher income to a work program started in 2011.

“I firmly believe this success is due to our Move to Work Program. We are one of the few in the nation, one in 39 total, and we are proud of the hard work and success we’ve seen from the program,” he said in a phone interview. 

The Housing Authority of Champaign County’s Moving to Work Program is currently in its eighth year.

The Housing Authority of Champaign County is one of 39 housing authorities across the nation with a Moving to Work (MTW) designation, part of a greater effort in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Local Self Sufficiency initiative. 

“I started in Champaign a year and a half ago. The other two housing authorities I worked at before also had Move to Work Programs and we were successful there as well. This is a great program that helps build self-sufficiency,” Northern said.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) first introduced the MTW Program initiative in 1996. This was originally formed to increase self-sufficiency. The main requirement for the program which sets MTW agencies apart is the requirement for all individuals in the home ages 18 to 54 must either be a full-time student or have a job. 

According to research through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by Dr. Han Bum Lee, Dr. Paul McNamara and Cathy Strick, between the years of 2012 and 2014, the Local Self Sufficiency (LSS) program increased the average earnings within a household by $2,283. 

“In aggregate, this allowed HACC to serve an additional 98 (9%) LSS-eligible households for a year,” according to the research.

Another research study compared the average annual earnings of those participating in the Housing Authority of Champaign County’s program.

“On average, annual earnings for all assisted households in the HACC increased from $5,041 in 2011 to $9,680 in 2016, which was a 92% increase in five years, relative to a 13.2% increase in the comparison PHA [public housing authority],” according to Lee, McNamara and Strick’s research.

The research shows the MTW Program of the Housing Authority of Champaign County is assisting in increasing average household earnings, which is in direct correlation with the housing authority’s goal of “Moving Forward Together.”

As part of the program goals, program funding also allows for career development. In 2018, a goal towards self-sufficiency was, “Implement a job retention program in collaboration with the Work Force Development Center to assist residents to maintain employment.” 

Programming provided by the housing authority in conjunction with the MTW Program consists of job placement and referrals. At the Housing Authority of Champaign County, there is a team of people who help connect people with jobs, education and resources.

Additionally, upon completion of the eight-year maximum on housing assistance with the MTW Program, the household receives a bonus. This was designed to help families with the transition from housing assistance to self-sufficiency. 

In the 2019 report, measures were cited to help job retention and goals were listed to continue program development and implementation. This shows consistency between goals and actions, continuing goals across years. 

The annual goals, planning and reports for each year since the beginning of the program in 2011 are posted on the website. This also includes the 2020 plan draft for public comment. 

“My mom was on it and when she passed they really tried to work with me to help me out, giving it to me. I didn’t need it but they were very willing to work with me,” Maurice Hansen, resident of Champaign, said. 

“I think it’s a good system but it takes forever to get people off of it. They do their best but it could be better,” she said.

Increasing the Housing Authority of Champaign County program to better serve the need for affordable housing in the community is a recurring goal, said Northern. 

“A year and a half ago we required individuals to have a job to apply for housing,” Northern said. 

The housing authority has since changed its guidelines for participation, requiring proof of a job after six months in housing. Although this has increased the waiting period for affordable housing, this is believed to help more households in their search for affordable housing.

“I think this was a necessary change. This allows people to be self-sufficient and holding people accountable while also being understanding of individual situations,” Northern said.

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