New Paper: Next Generation Reforms for HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program

I’m pleased to be releasing a new policy paper today for the Asset Building Program. The paper, entitled “Asset-Oriented Rental Assistance: Next Generation Reforms for HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program,” takes an in-depth look at the current state of research on the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program and makes a set of recommendations for its improvement. Over the past two years, I’ve spoken with FSS program coordinators around the country. These are individuals who are working hard to implement the program in creative ways in diverse communities – and facing a range of challenges as they go. This paper is based in large part on these conversations and aims to reflect both the triumphs and frustrations that these particular programs have experienced. I’ve included reviews of recent wide-scale evaluations of the program to provide additional context.
The FSS program represents a unique model within the landscape of rental assistance programs because it explicitly emphasizes the role that savings has in improving the prospects for low-income families to achieve financial stability and achieve independence from or reduce reliance on public assistance. Through the FSS program, Housing Choice Voucher holders and residents of public housing work on goals related to employment and self-sufficiency, while building up a pool of assets in an escrow account. However, despite a program model that integrates multiple determinants of economic well-being for rental-assisted households, the program remains small.

Previous research efforts on the FSS program have focused primarily on qualitative reports from individual programs of positive participant outcomes. More recently, evaluations of program effectiveness using experimental designs are providing additional information. Research efforts are far from complete, however.

The interviews I conducted helped identify some significant and under-explored barriers to success in the program – as well as some promising strategies to begin addressing them. Broadly speaking, these challenges can be divided into challenges connected to the program’s design or implementation and issues that emanate from the socioeconomic conditions affecting participant households.

The full paper is available here, but a few of the key themes include:
 

Individual FSS programs are struggling to fully mitigate the pervasive impact of the post-Recession economy. Coordinators I spoke with identified a lack of living wage jobs, a lack of affordable and reliable transportation, and a lack of affordable, high-quality child care as major impediments to their participants’ self-sufficiency.  Coordinators are already using innovative strategies to combat these socioeconomic challenges, but seek more information and guidance from staff at HUD on how to best do so.

Program coordinators reported having little guidance on how to best support their participants with disabilities and how help them navigate a complex patchwork of rules and eligibility requirements in other programs. This challenge raised broader theoretical questions about who the program is best suited for and how to provide appropriate services to diverse participants.  

The paper includes recommendations for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, individual housing authorities, and non-profits in the housing or asset-building fields. These include articulating a coherent policy for effectively serving participants with disabilities, improving data collection (particularly on the issue of longer-term outcomes), expanding research efforts, and building linkages to other agencies’ services and non-profit partners.
Each of these findings has implications for the design of future research projects, policy reform, and program implementation.

This program has value for people receiving rental assistance, those currently on waiting lists, and members of the broader public, who will all benefit from a system that supports meaningful markers of upward economic mobility.

With modest improvements, the FSS program can be a critical part of a successful strategy to promote economic self-sufficiency among households that receive rental assistance in the U.S. 

Read more in the paper here and let us know what you think in the comments below or by sending an email to emple@newamerica.org.
 

Author:

Hannah Emple