Friday, August 11, 2017

Pay for Success: Opportunities and Challenges in Housing and Economic Development

by David Luberoff
Senior Associate
Pay for Success (PFS) initiatives have received widespread attention in the United States over the past several years. These outcomes-based projects – which generally do not pay service providers and government entities until and unless they achieve certain agreed upon outcomes – hold great promise in a variety of fields, including housing and community development, notes Omar Carrillo Tinajero in a new working paper jointly published by NeighborWorks® America and the Joint Center for Housing Studies. In the paper, Carrillo, a 2016 Edward M. Gramlich Fellow, notes that PFS projects may offer important opportunities to break down funding silos, devise innovative new ways to address pressing problems, and compel providers to focus on the results of an intervention. However, he adds, “because their complexity makes them at present difficult to structure and finance, PFS projects are likely to be useful only in limited circumstances, which means the PFS model should therefore be used judiciously and carefully.” Moreover, he notes, “the interest in and discussion about PFS projects has highlighted approaches that could be carried out by the public sector without the structure of PFS arrangements.”

To better understand how this approach could be used to address housing and community development issues, Carrillo examines three projects: 
  • The Denver Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond Initiative, which focused on providing supportive housing for individuals who are both frequently in jail and often go to emergency medical services in Denver.
  • The Chronic Homelessness PFS Initiative, which aims to provide 500 units of permanent supportive housing for up to 800 of the 1,600 people currently experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts.
  • Project Welcome Home, an initiative in Santa Clara County, California focused on providing housing and supportive services for 150-200 chronically homeless individuals in the Silicon Valley over six years.
In the paper, Carrillo reviews the goals of each initiative and describes the metrics that will be used to decide whether and how much providers will be paid.  He also offers detailed descriptions about how each initiative was organized, funded, and evaluated.

The initiatives, he writes, “are promising, especially as they promote an emphasis on outcomes and begin to streamline services from various government sources.” However, he also cautions that “it is not immediately obvious that their benefits outweigh their costs,” particularly the extensive time and resources needed to develop and oversee the initiatives. He adds that it may be possible for the public-sector to adopt many PFS approaches (particularly their focus on outcomes, and the need for better data systems to measure those outcomes) without developing the complex structures and systems needed to establish and oversee an effective PFS.

“Though PFS sounds promising,” he concludes, “putting a project together can entail logistical difficulties and substantial transaction costs. Because of these challenges, the PFS model should be used judiciously. In particular, it could be a promising strategy for situations in which addressing problems requires coordination of a variety of disparate sources of public funding which, for various reasons, are difficult to use in a coordinated fashion.”

However, he adds, “we should not lose sight of the overall problem that PFS programs address: the need to provide services to as many people as possible, in the most effective way possible. It seems difficult to conceive of increased funding for these much-needed resources from the federal government, and state and local governments will continue to find themselves pressed for solutions to deliver evidence-based services. The PFS movement has pushed public-sector entities to focus more heavily on outcomes and, in doing so, to consider more multi-pronged approaches for addressing key issues.”

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