Financial Literacy : Family Self Sufficiency

Program/Practice Name: Family Self Sufficiency (FSS)

Agency Name: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

Contact Information:

Kathryn L. Greenspan
Housing Program Specialist
Housing Voucher Management and Operations Division
Office of Public and Indian Housing
457 Seventh Street, SW
Washington, DC 10410
Phone: (202) 402-4055
Kathryn.L.Greenspan@hud.gov
www.hud.gov/offices/pih/programs/hcv/fss.cfm

Jeff Lubell
Executive Director
Center for Housing Policy
1900 M Street, NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 270-5251
jlubell@nhc.org

Type of Program/Practice: FSS is a program designed to promote employment and increase savings among families receiving housing choice vouchers (Section 8) or living in public housing.

Program/Practice Description: FSS is a HUD program designed to help families in the housing voucher program and public housing build assets and increase their earnings to make progress to economic security. FSS combines stable, affordable housing with case management services to help families overcome barriers to work and an asset account that grows as families incomes grow. Public housing agencies (PHAs) work with welfare agencies, schools, businesses, and other local partners to develop a comprehensive program that gives participating FSS family members the skills and experience they need to obtain employment that pays a living wage.

Background/Program History: FSS was established by Congress in 1990 by section 554 of the National Affordable Housing Act. It is a successor program to Project Self-Sufficiency and Operation Bootstrap. FSS was created to help promote employment among, and boost the assets of, low-income families participating in certain federal housing programs.

Innovations and Results: FSS can help increase the share of public housing or housing choice voucher families that are working and to increase families’ earnings and assets. Of particular importance, FSS can help encourage work among welfare recipients so they find a job before they lose their income due to time limits. The FSS escrow account is the largest financial work incentive for families receiving housing choice vouchers or living in public housing units funded by HUD. FSS is also one of the largest asset-building programs for poor families in the country. Pointing to the effectiveness of the FSS program and strategy, a 2005 evaluation of the program found that FSS participants experienced much larger increases in income than non-participants between 1996 and 2000; FSS participants on welfare experienced even greater income gains, more than doubling their incomes between 1996 and 2000; and FSS participants reduced their dependence on welfare faster than non-participants. An evaluation published in 2011 likewise reported strong findings.

Tips to Implementation: The following are a few points to consider when implementing such a program:

  • For the most part, PHAs must rely on their own or other local resources to operate FSS programs. However, under the authority of annual appropriations acts, HUD has been able to provide some funding for FSS program coordinators to assist PHAs in operating housing choice voucher FSS programs. The availability of funding is announced in the Federal Register in a Notice of Funding Availability.
  • One source of support for FSS programs is partnerships between PHAs and other entities in the community that can provide or fund case management and other services for FSS participants. Potential sources include:
    • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
    • Community action agencies
    • Head Start programs
    • Welfare to work and other workforce development funds administered through workforce investment boards
    • City government
    • Private and public foundations
  • Some PHAs are required to administer FSS programs because they received FSS funding for certificates or vouchers in FY 1993 or subsequent years through October 21, 1998. As a result of the Public Housing Reform Act of 1998, funding received after October 21, 1998 no longer mandates an increase in the minimum size of a PHA's FSS program.

Keys to Success: The housing agency has many responsibilities to fulfill for both the families it serves and for government-required record keeping. The housing agency must:

  • Provide case management services to link FSS participants with supportive services in the community. Housing agencies can provide case management services themselves or contract or partner with an agency that provides these services.
  • Maintain families' escrow accounts and invest those funds in HUD-approved investments.
  • Evaluate any request to withdraw escrow funds for purposes related to the goals of the FSS contract while the family is enrolled in FSS.
  • Determine whether a family has successfully completed the five-year FSS contract and, if so, provide the family with the funds in its escrow account plus interest.

Successes: The 2005 evaluation further found, "The typical FSS program graduate in 2000 accumulated about $3,000 in escrowed savings; and, of the households leaving FSS in 2000, 42 percent were successful program graduates."

The following tools are associated with Family Self Sufficiency.  Please send us an email for more information about these tools.

Akron (OH) Contact Letter

Outreach correspondence to potential FSS clients encouraging them to make an appointment and indicating the steps they need to take to participate.

Big Flats (NY) FSS Application

Example of an FSS application form

New Hampshire Housing GOAL Program Assessment

New Hampshire's assessment tool

Montgomery County (MD) FSS Assessment Tool  

Montgomery County's FSS assessment tool

Oceanside (CA) FSS Program Quarterly Progress Report  

Oceanside's progress report

Green Bay (WI) Informal Survey

Administered to graduates of the FSS program

Rhode Island's Post-Homeownership Survey

Administered to clients after they purchased a home

Evaluation of the Family Self-Sufficiency Program: Prospective Study (2011): http://www.huduser.org/portal/publications/affhsg/eval_fssp.html