I. Introduction The intention of the A Better Life (ABL) program is to motivate residents to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible while freeing up valuable housing resources for other individuals and families who remain on our extensive waiting lists.
As a part of this program, the WHA offers case management and other wide range of other assistance. Residents are encouraged to contact the ABL office for more information.
II. Phase 1 - Voluntary Program Initially, participation in ABL was strictly voluntary. As such, there was no requirement for participants to go to school or work. Residents were encouraged to seek work or attend school and proceed along a path to self-sufficiency. This phase began in 2011. After extensive outreach to residents living in public housing, a very limited number of families were willing to participate and do the hard work recommended in the program. Residents of both state and federally subsidized housing continue to be eligible to participate in this phase of the program.
III. Phase 2 - Admissions Preference In 2014, the Massachusetts State Legislature passed the Welfare Reform Act. This legislation gave the WHA permission to operate the ABL program on state subsidized property. This phase of the program included an “admissions preference”. This preference would place any applicant family at the top of the state public housing waiting list if they agreed to participate and meet the requirements of the ABL program. Once the applicant agreed to participate and signed a lease which included the program requirements, they were then required to go to work, attend school or provide community service along with other requirements. Failure to meet the program requirements will result in lease enforcement up to and including eviction.
This phase of the program continues and applies to applicants for state subsidized public housing.
IV. Phase 3 - Existing Residents of State Public Housing This phase of the program applies to existing residents not admitted as a part of the Phase 2 admissions preference phase. It includes all residents living in state subsidized family public housing.
- The “requirement” to go to school or work is only being applied at state subsidized communities (200, 705).
- While the requirement to go to work or attend school is mandatory as described herein, participation in ABL services including case management, Life Skills training and other services is strictly voluntary but is available to any resident who wishes assistance.
- As described herein and upon formal notification, an existing resident will be required to go to work or attend school following their annual recertification of their lease. The work/school requirement shall begin no sooner than September 1, 2015. For those residents whose annual recertification will take place between the announcement of this program but before September 1, the requirement to go to work or attend school will be delayed until September 1. For those residents whose annual recertification takes place on September 1 or thereafter, the work/school requirements will take place upon recertification and the signing of their lease.
- For families participating in the Transitional Housing Program (THP), after their stay in said program, if they transfer to a state subsidized apartment the school/work requirement shall begin upon the signing of their lease. For those residents whose new lease will take affect between the announcement of this program but before September 1, the requirement to go to work or attend school will be delayed until September 1. For those residents whose lease signing takes place on September 1 or thereafter, the work/school requirements will take place upon the signing of their lease.
- Failure to meet the program requirements will result in lease enforcement up to and including eviction.
- The 1200 hour annual work requirement provides residents with flexibility as to when they start and whether or not they work/attend school full or part time. It is our hope that all residents will begin to attend school or go to work immediately after the signing of their new lease. However, for those who choose not to attend school or go to work immediately, from the initial date of recertification of the lease, a resident will have a maximum of up to 22 weeks to begin full-time work. At that point, the resident would need to work full-time, for the remainder of the year, to meet their obligation. If they are not attending school or going to work full-time by then they will be considered to be in violation of their lease and subject to lease enforcement.
V. Other Assistance See "Services" attachment.
1. Single family households consisting of a sole member that is 55 years old will be exempted from the program requirements.
2. Family households where all adults are 55 years old and older will be exempted from the program requirements.
3. Those adults, within a household, unable to work because of a documented disability will be exempted from the program requirements.
4. For issues not relating to disability, a "hardship committee" will be established comprised of residents participating in the program and housing authority staff who will consider applications by residents to modify or exempt their participation in the program beyond the parameters described herein.
5. For issues relating to disability, residents may request a reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodation notices and forms are provided to tenants upon lease signing and also may be obtained from the management office upon request.
NOTE: Exemptions for an individual family may change as the age of family members and family composition changes.
For the purposes of this program, employment will be considered full-time, if it meets all of the following:
- Employed for no less than 1200 hours during the year
- Employed at minimum wage or higher
- Resident earns no less than 1200 hours x the minimum wage ($9.00 as of 1/1/15)
Full-Time Enrollment in Accredited Academic Program
For the purposes of this program, enrollment in an accredited academic program will be considered full time, if it meets all of the following:
- Is a student, in good standing, is enrolled and attending an accredited post high school program
- Is attending school full-time in both the winter/spring and fall semesters
- Has met the requirements of the educational institution as being enrolled in good standing on a full-time basis
Part-Time Employment/Part-Time Enrollment in Academic Program
For the purposes of this program, the combination of part-time employment and part-time enrollment in an accredited academic program must equal the requirements of full-time employment as stated herein. To that end, the WHA will assign an hour value to the part-time academic program for the year. That amount plus the number of part-time employment hours must equal no less than 1200 hours annually to be given credit
Implementation The following steps will be followed relative to the implementation of Phase 3 of the program.
- All existing residents living in state public housing will receive notification of the program, the program requirements and their responsibilities.
- An informational session(s) will be held to explain the program and its requirements. At that session, information will be available relative to the full range of ABL services.
- All existing residents will only be required to meet the work/school requirements of the program following the annual recertification of their lease and the signing of a new lease as described herein.
- The new resident lease will contain specific language, as described herein, detailing the resident’s requirements.
A Better Life Services
Attachment B Program Model
Our program is based on four pillars.
1. Believe in the ability of our residents
2. Set high standards
3. Hold residents responsible
4. Help residents reach those standards
The current method for providing families public housing has created a system that rewards residents who are not pursuing self-sufficiency. Following the four pillars cited above, our program looks to change the way public housing is provided to families and, as a result, break the cycle of intergenerational poverty that the current system has created.
ABL participants receive a variety of support services during their involvement in the program.
1. Intensive Coaching Our case managers are called Family Life Coaches. Case management starts with a comprehensive five-part personal/family assessment including assessment of their:
- finances/financial literacy
- education level
- occupational history and readiness
- personal/family challenges
The results of these assessments form the basis for the creation of a Family Development Plan.
- Each participant is assigned to a Family Life Coach (FLC). FLCs meet with clients bi-weekly.
- Participants receive a Goals Plan outlining short and long term goals they will achieve in the five (5) major areas (see above).
- Goals Plan is designed for the entire household, including children.
- Employment readiness workshops on-site, free of charge. Workshops include Resume Writing, Job Search, Workplace Communication, Interview Prep, etc. Workshops are conducted by field experts including Workforce Central staff.
- WHA has established close to 30 apprenticeship opportunities for our participants
- Apprenticeships have helped prepare participants for permanent employment and gain experience
- Apprenticeships range in fields such as clerical, labor, custodial, landscaping, apartment prep
- WHA has an Employment Specialist on staff, who works closely with community employers to secure sustainable employment opportunities for participants
- Employment Specialist also works closely with Workforce Central and local colleges to identify different educational paths for participants to obtain meaningful employment
3. Financial Literacy
- WHA has partnered with financial agencies such as American Consumer Credit Counseling, to provide participants workshops and individual, personalized financial literacy and counseling.
- WHA has also partnered with local banking institutions to provide participants Checking and Savings accounts along with competitive banking rates.
- FLCs review family budgets with participants during bi-weekly meetings along with debt reduction plan and goals.
4. Education Adults
- WHA has partnered with several educational institutions and agencies including Quinsigamond Community College, Mount Wachusett Community College, and MassEDCO to assist participants that want to pursue post secondary education
- WHA offers ESL and Hi-Set classes on-site to participants at no cost
- FLCs review the report cards of ABL children and coach participants on becoming involved and remaining involved with their child’s education
- WHA has partnered with several elementary, middle and high schools to assist ABL children obtain entry in prestigious local schools
- WHA offers after school programs and tutoring for children as well as free summer youth programming
- WHA has assisted participants in obtaining childcare when needed, through partnerships with Worcester Comprehensive Education and Care and Guild of St Agnes Childcare
- WHA has partnered with numerous healthcare institutions including Edward Kennedy Community Health Center, UMass Hospital, St. Vincent’s Hospital and Centro Las Americas
- FLCs work closely with participants to ensure that they attend all their medical appointments as well as those of their children
- Participants have received workshops on Preventative Healthcare, Stress Management, Sex Education and Healthy Living, including nutrition and staying active
- FLCs assist and coach participants on personal problems that arise that may be an obstacle to obtaining a goal or success
- WHA has partnered with Families First Parenting Programs, Parent / Professional Advocacy League, Planned Parenthood, and Worcester Community Connections Coalition to administer workshops and individual assistance on parenting
- WHA has partnered with YWCA and DayBreak to provide workshops and assistance to participants on domestic violence and healthy relationships
- All workshops are held onsite and dinner and childcare is provided
- Other workshops administered include computer literacy (Microsoft Word, Excel, Intro to PC and Internet)
- WHA has developed various incentives for participants as they achieve goals (short or long term)
- Incentives include gift cards, coupons, or other prizes