Spotlight Exclusives

Ohio’s Move to PROSPER Wins Bipartisan Support

Amy Klaben Amy Klaben, posted on

A unique approach to housing and economic mobility is gaining bipartisan traction in Ohio, where Gov. Mike DeWine (R) first placed it in his biennial operating budget and now the House has maintained the funding.

The program is called Move to PROSPER (MTP), a three-year program that empowers low-wage families and their children to gain economic security. Working with partner landlords, we offer partial rent support in higher-resourced neighborhoods and combine the move with required coaching and programs for the parents.

In a 10-family pilot completed in partnership with faculty at The Ohio State University (OSU), families raised their incomes by 58%, or $17,000 on average, and improved their mental and physical health.

Our program is based on the work of Harvard’s Raj Chetty, who has focused his research on the effects a ZIP code can have on the trajectory of a child’s life. What he found, though, is that while simply moving to a neighborhood with green spaces, lower crime rates, better schools, and peers who expect to graduate high school and go on to college, training or the military helped the kids tremendously, it didn’t help their parents much at all.

When I and my co-founders, Dr. Rachel Kleit, Associate Dean in the School of Engineering at OSU, and local commercial realtor Steve Heiser, sat down to create our program, we chose to focus on creating a two-generation model. In order to help parents, we added required coaching for the full 36-months, plus monthly programs that all families in a group of 15-18 families attend together. This helps the parents build a tool box—such as budgeting, wellness, parenting, and understanding careers that provide upward mobility—that allows them to create their own path to economic stability.

Some other details of our Move to PROSPER paradigm:

  • Our coaching model focuses on individualized support—one coach with one family—who help participants set and reach their goals. Coaching is the backbone of Move to PROSPER, coupled with workshops that help our families realize their goals. Participation is required in the coaching and group programs, which are based on our evaluated curriculum and model.
  • Families receive the benefit of $400 rental support for 3 years even if they receive a wage increase, enabling them to access quality housing in higher-resourced communities in our region.
  • Prior to the move, families lived in areas rated low (on average 24.1) on the Opportunity Map created by OSU’s Kirwan Institute and used by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. After the move, the families lived in areas rated high (on average 68.5). This enables the children to attend schools with higher graduation rates.

The response from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle has been overwhelmingly positive—a rarity in a state with a Republican supermajority.

On the Democratic side, we hear praise for creating rental support that doesn’t decline as our participants make more money. State Rep. Dontavius Jarrells told us, “The system pushes people back down after they get a hand up.” State Rep. Mary Lightbody believes in the program’s subtle work to make more inclusive communities where zoning laws and other systemic problems have often kept families like our participants out. “This helps everyone move into the middle class,” Lightbody said.

Republicans often mention the business case for support. If you can not only reduce a family’s reliance on government supports, such as Medicaid, housing assistance, or child care vouchers, but also create two generations in a family that come onto the tax rolls, that’s a win. “People don’t want to be the recipient of charity,” said GOP state Rep. Michelle Reynolds. “Self-determination is important. This is a solution. It’s what we need.”

Former GOP U.S. Congressman Steve Stivers, who now leads the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, recently spoke on behalf of MTP during the public release of OSU’s final report evaluating the pilot. The report by Dr. Jason Reece can be found here. “The thing I love about Move to PROSPER, and why it’s an important model for the future is that it actually builds self-sufficiency,” Stivers said.

We agree. We are currently executing a growth plan to welcome the next 100 families into the program over the course of three years. A group of 15 families began in September 2022, another group of 16 started the programming April 2023, and we are currently interviewing applicants to begin in August. We will continue to work with OSU evaluators to assess our outcomes on these next 100 families. Our plan is to take our model and expand to other cities, whether in Ohio or beyond.

That expansion is the heart of state Sen. Hearcel Craig’s support. Craig, a Democrat, loves our work and the diversity of the population we serve. He likes that we move families toward self-sufficiency. He supports our growth model.

The board and I are now meeting with Ohio state senators from both sides of the aisle, and we hope to remain in the final Ohio 2024 fiscal budget, which is due to go into effect on July 1.

Amy Klaben is President and CEO of Move to PROSPER


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