A Realistic Approach Needed With Programs like HUD's New EnVision Centers

Secretary Ben Carson's vision for the Department of Housing and Urban Development focuses on a new workforce development program called EnVision Centers.
March 22, 2018, 5am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Gregory Reed

Robert Abare interviews Urban Institute fellow Susan J. Popkin on the subject of EnVision Centers, the centerpiece of Secretary Ben Carson's agenda at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as he tries to move the mission of HUD away from public housing and toward self-reliance.

Abare explains the EnVision Centers concept as follows: "Located on or near public housing developments, the centers are to be hubs where residents can access services intended to boost self-sufficiency among assisted people through four pillars: character and leadership, educational advancement, economic empowerment, and health and wellness."

As has been noted in previous coverage of Secretary Carson's frustrations in his role at HUD, EnVision Centers have not been devoted much priority. The Trump Administration's most recent budget request, while likely to be mostly ignored by Congress like most presidential budget requests, only includes $2 million for the EnVision Centers. Still, give the importance of the concept to Secretary Carson's agenda, Abare questions Popkin about the precedents, potential, and shortcomings of the idea.

Popkin makes it clear at the outset of the interview that EnVision Centers are based on familiar ideas, and that previous workforce programs have produced modest effects. When asked what is standing in the way of self-sufficiency for the residents of public housing in locations around the United States, Popkin answered thusly:

HUD should be wary of implying that people in public housing don’t want to work—they do. When I’ve visited public housing properties and asked residents what they need, they say jobs.

But low-income people also say that they need various supports to be able to work. They need child care, a wage that can support a decent quality of life, a system that doesn’t put a 100 percent tax on benefits like TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families], SNAP [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], and housing assistance when they start earning more, and reliable and affordable transportation options.

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Published on Monday, March 19, 2018 in Urban Institute
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