As we celebrate HUD’s 50th anniversary this year, Secretary Julián Castro reminds us that, as the “Department of Opportunity,” we recognize the power of stable housing as a platform to improve lives by investing in people and expanding access to education, technology, jobs and healthcare.
With funding from Congress, HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing continues with its opportunity initiatives to help families and individuals realize their potential and reach their career and educational goals. These initiatives include Jobs-Plus, ConnectHome, SEED (STEM, Energy, Economic Development), Resident Opportunities and Self-Sufficiency (ROSS) and Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS).
HUD’s recent award of just over $75 million in FSS grant funds to 701 public housing authorities (PHAs) demonstrates our continued commitment to increase families’ economic stability and upward mobility. The grants will fund just over 1,326 FSS Program Coordinator positions at PHAs and Tribally Designated Housing Entities, to work with participating families, connecting them to local services and resources to assist with completing their economic, educational and employment goals.
The FSS program assists families in Public Housing and the Housing Choice Voucher program make progress toward economic security by combining: (1) stable affordable housing, (2) service coordination to help families set goals and overcome barriers to self-sufficiency, and (3) an asset-building tool in the form of an escrow account that grows as families’ earnings increase. The FSS escrows are interest-bearing accounts established by the housing authority for each participating family. Any increases in the family’s rent as a result of increased earned income during the family’s participation in the program result in a credit to the family’s escrow account. Once a family successfully graduates from the program, they may access the escrow and use it for any purpose, such as a down payment on a home purchase, a much-needed car, education expenses, etc.
The FSS program is changing lives, and Jessie Sanchez’s story is a great example. Jessie, a single mother of three in San Marcos, Texas, joined the FSS program in 2011. She was receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and had a Housing Choice Voucher.
After enrolling in the program, she met with her FSS coordinator quarterly, to discuss her goals and her progress. “Because of FSS, I was able to gain knowledge about how to work in a professional environment, repair my credit, open a bank account, and pay off my car and school loans,” said Jessie.
She worked full-time at McCoy’s Building Supply as an assistant in the corporate headquarters, and was ultimately promoted to Executive Assistant III for the Executive Vice President team. Together with her FSS coordinator, Jessie designed a budget that she was able to stick to, and today Jessie has achieved self-sufficiency and no longer receives financial assistance. In fact, with some of the money saved in her escrow account, Jessie plans to become a homeowner in the next year.
HUD’s FSS program presently has over 72,000 households actively participating in the program. Last year, 4,382 families successfully graduated from FSS, with an average escrow at graduation of $6,600. And most impressive is that 11% of program graduates went on to purchase a home within one year after graduation. The services for FSS program participants are provided through partnerships with employers and service providers in the local community. You can learn more about the FSS program here.
Thousands of families across the nation are benefitting from HUD’s FSS and other opportunity programs, all of which blend investments in people with the stability provided through a safe and affordable home. And HUD is continuing to expand those opportunities, so I invite you to watch for upcoming grant awards for the Jobs-Plus and ROSS programs.
Lourdes Castro Ramirez is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Public and Indian Housing.