Federally funded rental assistance programs in the U.S. address housing-related hardship for participants, but are unable to reach a majority of eligible households due to current funding levels. Given existing funding constraints, there are benefits to expanding programs and policies that help families move up the economic ladder, thus freeing up resources to assist more eligible families.
The Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program is one promising initiative focused on the long-term financial security and economic mobility of rental assistance recipients through increased employment, asset building, and financial goal setting. Despite modest funding and attention from policymakers, the FSS program has the potential to significantly expand its impact at scale. Drawing on a growing body of research, and interviews with FSS program staff from diverse housing authorities, this paper presents a discussion of program successes and current challenges, and identifies policy reforms to strengthen the FSS program and make the delivery of rental assistance more effective.
This paper reviews previous evaluations of the FSS program conducted by academic researchers, non-profit organizations, and government entities, and augments the review with information collected directly from FSS program staff. FSS program coordinators, tasked with administering the program in housing authorities across the country, offer particularly valuable insights on ways to overcome both programmatic-level structural barriers and societal-level economic barriers to the program’s success. They are similarly well-positioned to identify how any legislative changes at the federal level could affect participants.
After describing the current structure and status of the program and reviewing recent research findings, the paper will analyze the factors limiting the program’s effectiveness and offer a set of policy recommendations to strengthen the program. These include better articulating the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s leadership role in the FSS program community, developing non-profit and other non-governmental partners to champion and advocate for the FSS program, and streamlining and integrating the FSS program with other public benefits and programs to maximize its impact. With renewed attention, the FSS program can be part of a successful strategy to promote economic self-sufficiency among households that receive rental assistance in the U.S.
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