To Produce Better Results, PHA Changes Its Ways

The following editorial was published on Sunday, September 22 in the Philadelphia Inquirer

The Philadelphia Housing Authority is moving on from "building beyond expectations," its theme for the last several years, and is committed to changing perceptions of the agency and being an exemplary partner, neighbor, and employer.

PHA's focus is now on its more than 80,000 residents, the sustainability of its housing stock, and ensuring that there is low-income housing for future generations. That means emphasizing three core principles: people, property, and partnerships.

While we have made progress on multiple fronts, the starting point is our residents. In my interactions with them, I have heard a common theme: They want to live in safe conditions, have gainful employment, and see opportunities for their children.

PHA's resident services department has taken two important initiatives. One was creating a task force to determine how best to create a safe living environment, which resulted in a commitment to hiring 60 new security officers, including PHA residents. The second was a review of our resident councils, the liaisons between clients and PHA, to ensure that all were in compliance with regulations and eligible for funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The focus then turned to education, which is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty that inhibits our residents from finding sustainable social and economic mobility. PHA created a nonprofit called PhillySEEDS (Self-Sufficiency, Employment, Empowerment, and Direct Services) to raise scholarship and social services funds. It is dedicated to advancing educational, economic, and social services opportunities for residents.

One of the group's first initiatives was the PHA Scholars Program. For this academic year, PhillySEEDS awarded $160,000 in scholarships to 36 PHA residents who are enrolled in higher-education institutions or trade schools, and distributed more than 2,500 book bags with supplies to children ages 4 to 17.

PHA is also securing new year-round after-school programming for its nearly 20,000 PHA residents between the ages of 7 and 17. These programs will emphasize mentoring, literacy and numeracy instruction, and tools for academic and social success. We want our residents on track to achieve their full potential.

The pre-apprenticeship program at PHA has also been restructured. While the previous program had hundreds of graduates, it did not result in real opportunities for its participants, specifically in getting sustainable union jobs and memberships. Of the 828 residents who graduated from the program since it began in 1999 - costing PHA about $3.2 million in just the last three years - fewer than 100 are currently employed. Under the new program, relaunched in July with the collaboration of local unions and city partners, every resident who completes the program will receive a union card and employment at PHA or with its partners, or receive technical support to start a business. PHA is also now providing transportation, child care, and other assistance to remove barriers to participation.

Another area of improvement is PHA's online job bank. At our 13 computer labs, residents can create or upload resum├ęs, receive one-on-one feedback, or browse job opportunities created through contracts with PHA.

To improve reading and math skills and digital literacy, PHA is launching an adult education program. We have hired four instructors and created a mini-school for this improved program. Students will have access to well-equipped classrooms with modern technology, and PHA will partner with institutions like Cheyney and Drexel Universities and the Community College of Philadelphia to expand our capacity to deliver education services.

PHA has changed tremendously. It is doing things differently to produce exceptional results. The new PHA is building better lives, starting at home. It is looking to the future and the promise and opportunities that it holds for people who are willing to work hard and play a meaningful role in uplifting their own lives.

Kelvin A. Jeremiah
President & CEO
Philadelphia Housing Authority´╗┐