Included in the administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a small $2 million allocation for 10 “EnVision Centers,” a project conceived and spearheaded by Secretary Ben Carson. The centers reflect his perspective that “financial support alone is insufficient to solve the problem of poverty.”

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.

Urban Institute fellow Susan J. Popkin says that past efforts show that even the strongest interventions are unlikely to help residents achieve enough financial stability to afford housing without assistance or help residents escape poverty. Expectations for programs like this need to be realistic. Based on everything we know about previous and ongoing workforce programs—and we’ve seen many different models—the effects are fairly modest.

If we want to help people move out of public housing, there must be a realistic step for them to take after they leave, along with wraparound support services, or they’re going to end up needing assistance again.

HUD should be wary of implying that people in public housing don’t want to work—they do.  But low-income people also say that they need various supports to be able to work. And those who face more complex challenges like physical and mental health problems need wraparound services and long-term support. Fundamental, systemic problems in our country must also be addressed.

There’s nothing wrong with the goal of helping people work more: work helps build self-worth and a healthy society. But we should base our efforts in this area on evidence on what works and have realistic expectations about what even the best interventions can achieve.

Read the full article about housing initiatives by Robert Abare at The Urban Institute.