NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Public Housing Recipients Must Give Back to the Community

April 20, 2004

Federal legislation enacted six years ago requires public housing recipients without certain exemptions to perform community service work as a condition of receiving their housing. The requirement, part of the welfare reform movement of the 1990s, requires that all public-housing residents who are not employed full-time, in school, disabled or of retirement age, to perform 96 hours of community service per year -- equivalent to 12 days of fulltime work.

The New York City housing authority recently began implementing the legislation a year ago:

  • Recipients can divide up their hours in a variety of increments -- whether 8 hours per month for a year, or 96 hours over one month.
  • Community service hours can be spent working for the housing authority, in such duties as tenant patrol, community clean-up day, and so forth, or in non-housing authority activities, such as volunteering at a local food bank, police department or youth mentoring program.
  • Those who don't meet a May 1 deadline for performing the service may face eviction unless the city housing authority allows them an additional year's extension to complete their work.

In fact, the city has been sending reminder letters to those who have not yet begun their community service work. However, some public housing advocates decry the community service requirement, claiming that many residents lack information about the requirements and have been baffled by the letters. Moreover, some residents find it insulting that they are being told what to do with their time.

Source: David W. Chen, "In Public Housing, It's Work, Volunteer or Leave," New York Times, April 15, 2004.


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