SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has proposed big changes for people who live in public housing. Some of their rents could be tripled, and many residents would be required to work in order to receive subsidies. Several cities already have a work requirement for those who live in federally funded housing. Tracy Jones oversees the voucher program at the Atlanta Housing Authority and joins us from Atlanta.
Ms. Jones, thanks so much for being with us.
TRACY JONES: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: Why was it important for you to include a job requirement?
JONES: Because the goal is to, one, help our families become self-sufficient - promote self-sufficiency. Additionally, we wanted families to utilize this program and then ultimately move on to possibly home ownership or, you know, whatever it is they needed or want to do outside of federal assistance.
SIMON: What kind of jobs do they hold?
JONES: We're finding that they are getting those minimum wage jobs, which is a challenge because when they're making the minimum wage, that's not a livable wage. So our families - we find that they go in and out of unemployment or in and out of what we call compliance.
But ultimately, we implemented some other programs where we provide supportive services. So we help these families get the additional support they need - a GED, child care or whatever those things are - to help the families get to the next level. And we partnered with agencies within the city to offer these programs. And then once families started completing these programs, they could move from that $7.25 to possibly the $12 or $13 or $14 job an hour that will ultimately get them to a more stable...
JONES: ...Household where they can do a little more with their income.
SIMON: So what kind of minimum wage jobs are we talking about?
JONES: So we find a lot of our families do have the fast-food restaurant jobs. But we do have families that also have certified nursing assistants. We have nurses on our program. We have families with professional jobs. They're moving up. But we do see a lot of the fast-food restaurant, airport low-paying jobs at this time.
SIMON: Is there advice you'd give the federal government about a jobs requirement program?
JONES: I think introducing a minimum work requirement may be a good option in the long run, but you have to take it slow. You can't just roll it out, say I - we want to do this today and roll it out tomorrow. We will impact families tremendously. We may increase homelessness because this becomes a substantial burden on families, especially our low-income families. We would definitely have a social problem in this country if we rolled it out all at once.
SIMON: So it sounds like if Congress approves this, you think it might be a good idea, but it needs some guidance.
JONES: It definitely needs some guidance. It's a slow walk. Definitely it has to be thought out and planned effectively because you don't want to impact, you know, our most vulnerable families who need this subsidy and depend on this subsidy for a stable house.
SIMON: Ms. Jones, the goal of the program is to make families self-sufficient. Have you seen that happen - somebody, you know, leave public assistance and who now owns a home and is working 40 hours a week?
JONES: Yes, sir. We have a down payment assistance program, which is our home ownership program. And we have families who have been on the voucher program who have worked with our homeownership program, gotten the things that they need to get in place to be a homeowner and have left the voucher program and have purchased a home. We have several success stories there, and we do celebrate those families.
SIMON: Several out of thousands.
JONES: Well, several, yes. There's not a lot. There's not - you know, 500 is a small number, but we're working to help families feel more comfortable with being able to own a home.
SIMON: Tracy Jones, a vice president with Atlanta's housing authority, thanks so much for being with us.
JONES: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLENDED BABIES SONG, "REALLY...")
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