Rental Housing Assistance:

HUD Data on Self-Sufficiency Programs Should Be Improved

GAO-13-581: Published: Jul 9, 2013. Publicly Released: Aug 8, 2013.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds five key grant programs that encourage resident self-sufficiency. In fiscal year 2011, HUD awarded $113 million to the Housing Choice Voucher Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS), Public Housing FSS, and Resident Opportunity and Self-Sufficiency Service Coordinators (ROSS SC) programs. Public housing agencies (PHA) with HOPE VI grants or designated as Moving to Work (MTW) agencies spent a portion of their funds on activities that encourage self-sufficiency, but the amounts MTW agencies spent are not known for the program as a whole. Additionally, data on resident participation in the five programs were limited. The number of families that participated in the FSS programs and ROSS SC cannot be reliably assessed due to missing start dates, end dates, and annual updates, and a lack of reporting guidance. HOPE VI data on residents' participation does not include information on the elderly or persons with disabilities. Programwide MTW data on participation generally were unavailable. Internal control standards for the federal government state that program managers need operational data to determine whether they are meeting goals for accountability (effective and efficient use of resources). Without complete participation data, HUD lacks key information to effectively manage and evaluate its programs and Congress lacks data needed to oversee the programs.

HUD lacks a strategy for using data it requires of PHAs to expand what is known about outcomes in four of the programs. HUD has performed limited analysis of the data related to self-sufficiency outcomes for both types of FSS grants reported into its information systems. HUD has not analyzed similar data reported for ROSS SC and MTW activities. However, for HOPE VI HUD collects consistent, outcome-based measures for participation in self-sufficiency activities and uses the data to track residents' progress towards self-sufficiency. Internal control standards underline the importance not only of collecting but also using information to achieve programmatic goals. Also, the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) emphasizes the need for information on the effectiveness of federal programs to improve congressional decision making. A strategy for using these data could inform overall management review, congressional oversight, and planning for these programs. Using such data could help HUD identify from which PHAs to draw lessons to help improve HUD management of the programs as well as PHA management of self-sufficiency-related activities. GAO's analysis of available data on residents who participated in the FSS programs suggests positive changes for those who completed the programs, but the results are not conclusive because data indicating whether a family exited FSS or subsidized housing were missing for 35 percent of families that started an FSS program in 2006.

Why GAO Did This Study

HUD reported in 2011 that nearly 8.5 million lower-income families paid more than half their monthly income for rent, lived in substandard housing, or both. As the number of those needing assistance is greater than existing federal programs can serve, if families were able to increase their income and no longer require housing assistance, spaces could become available for other needy families. HUD offers several competitive grants that PHAs can use to hire staff who link residents to services or implement programs that encourage self-sufficiency. GAO was asked to examine the effectiveness of HUD's efforts to promote self-sufficiency among residents. Among its objectives, this report describes (1) costs and resident participation in HUD grant programs for PHAs that encourage work and self-sufficiency and (2) available information on the programs' effects on residents.

GAO reviewed HUD's goals for encouraging self-sufficiency, program descriptions, and regulations; analyzed grant award data for fiscal years 2006-2011 and available outcome information; and interviewed HUD and PHA officials.

What GAO Recommends

For three of its self-sufficiency programs, HUD should develop processes and program-specific reporting guidance to better ensure required data on participation and outcomes are complete. HUD agreed with three recommendations but disagreed that it should analyze data for the ROSS SC program. GAO believes that analysis of program data is critical for assessing outcomes.

For more information, contact Mathew Scirè at (202) 512-8678 or ScireMJ@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In May 2014 HUD implemented modifications to the information system related to the Family Self-sufficiency (FSS) program. HUD established a system of fatal edits that will trigger signals to the user in situations when public housing agencies submit incomplete or incorrect data. In August 2014, HUD sent notification to all FSS grantees, explaining the changes to the system and emphasizing the importance of making sure the system contains accurate data on FSS participants. This recommendation will remain open until HUD provides documentation of implementing this effort (i.e, documentation that demonstrates that grantees received and addressed warnings and fatal edits).

    Recommendation: To better inform Congress and improve what is known about residents' participation in key grant programs designed to facilitate resident self-sufficiency, and their progress towards self-sufficiency, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development should develop and implement a process to better ensure that data on FSS participant grants are complete; such a process should include steps for identifying missing data, identifying the reasons for missing data, and taking steps to help ensure data are complete.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: As of March 2014, HUD reported that it was in the process of streamlining the content and collection process for its eLogic model, for release with the fiscal year 2014 notice of funding availability (NOFA) (by September 30, 2014). HUD issued guidance to current grantees in March 2014 and provided additional guidance as a part of the fiscal year 2014 eLogic model. Recommendation to remain open until HUD demonstrates implementing the new tool (e.g., collecting data from the streamlined model and assessing the data to ensure grantees report required participation and outcome data).

    Recommendation: To better inform Congress and improve what is known about residents' participation in key grant programs designed to facilitate resident self-sufficiency, and their progress towards self-sufficiency, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development should develop and implement a process to better ensure that PHAs awarded ROSS SC grants annually report required participation and outcome data that are comparable among grant recipients; this process should include the issuance of program-specific reporting guidance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: In March 2014 HUD reported that it had established criteria for identifying poor performing and high performing FSS grantees. Recommendation to remain open until HUD demonstrates implementing use of the criteria. HUD reported that it plans to use this criteria to identify lessons learned as well as PHAs that may need assistance improving completion rates or outcomes by June 2015.

    Recommendation: To better inform Congress and improve what is known about residents' participation in key grant programs designed to facilitate resident self-sufficiency, and their progress towards self-sufficiency, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development should develop and implement a strategy for regularly analyzing FSS participation and outcome data; such a strategy could include identification of PHAs from which lessons could be learned and PHAs that may need assistance improving completion rates or outcomes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: In March 2014 HUD noted that is has taken steps to improve the participation and outcome data collected from ROSS SC grantees. The first reports from fiscal year 2014 ROSS SC grants, using a new data collection model, are expected to be received by December 2015. Recommendation to remain open until HUD demonstrates that it has regularly analyzed this data; and that its strategy for analyzing data includes identification of PHAs from which lessons could be learned and PHAs that may need assistance improving participation rates or outcomes.

    Recommendation: To better inform Congress and improve what is known about residents' participation in key grant programs designed to facilitate resident self-sufficiency, and their progress towards self-sufficiency, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development should develop and implement a strategy for regularly analyzing ROSS SC participation and outcome data; such a strategy could include identification of PHAs from which lessons could be learned and PHAs that may need assistance improving participation rates or outcomes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

 

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