But Jackson says he didn’t get to this point without some frustration, including months of unemployment. And not everyone who started the program ended up with a job or an apartment in the building.
Eleven men and women worked on the Wayne Place buildings. Sixof them have found jobs, officials said; one is in the final stages of pre-employment testing with the Department of Transportation; one had a stroke and has been unable to work; three continue to look for jobs.
Seven now live with their families in the buildings; one lives in public housing; one is receiving a housing subsidy; one earns enough to pay market rent for an apartment; one remains in a community-based shelter and still receives benefits from the city through a federally funded welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Beverly Barbour knew she probably wouldn’t end up moving into one of the Wayne Place buildings because she has five children, too many to squeeze into a three-bedroom place. But she signed up for the program anyway — just shy of her 50th birthday and with no construction experience — for the job training.
Barbour is now in an apprenticeship program for carpentry and works as a project manager assistant for a construction company, earning $15.84 an hour. She no longer receives welfare benefits. A particular point of pride for her — and one she partly credits Sweat Equity for — is that her two oldest sons are in college. “It showed them that if Mommy can do it, you can, too,” she says. “They see we were down for a minute, but we pulled ourselves back up.”
District officials praise the program for confirming that many welfare recipients want to work, even if some have lost hope, and for bringing different city agencies and nonprofit groups together.
The program was born through a rare collaboration of the city’s departments of Human Services, Employment Services and General Services with the United Planning Organization, the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness and Capital Area Asset Builders.
“I think we approached this thinking this was a great way to engage and change clients,” says David Berns, director of Department of Human Services. “As it turned out, it changed us.”
Officials from the city agencies and the nonprofit groups regularly gathered around tables and spoke bluntly about what was at stake. Their discussions acknowledged that not all the participants — many of whom had not graduated from high school and a few of whom required drug and alcohol treatment — would succeed.
They also talked about how the city had played a role in creating a community dependent on handouts and now had a responsibility to help individuals become self-sufficient. In 1996, the federal government placed a five-year lifetime limit on participation in TANF but allowed states and the District to keep recipients on the rolls longer if they used their own funds. The city decided to operate without time limits, a choice that cost D.C. taxpayers an estimated $35 million a year. That changed two years ago when the city began cutting back the welfare benefits of about 6,500 families that had been on assistance for more than five years. By 2015, those families and others that hit the five-year mark will see their benefits terminated.