Family Self-Sufficiency Program Shows Promising Results

A brief released by Compass Working Capital and Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), Promoting Economic Mobility in Multifamily Housing: Initial Outcomes from Family Self-Sufficiency Programs, highlights positive outcomes of Compass’s Family Self-Sufficient (FSS) program. Enrollees in the Compass FSS program saw significant increases in their annual earnings and credit scores and reductions in their debt obligations.

Congress created the FSS Program in 1990 to help housing assistance recipients increase their incomes and build their savings. Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) recipients contribute 30% of their income toward rent and utilities, with the voucher paying the remaining housing costs up to the public housing agency’s payment standard. Typically, as recipients’ incomes rise, so do the rents they must pay. The FSS Program allows households whose incomes increase to place their additional rent contributions in a savings account for future use. The savings are accumulated and held in an account over a five-year period. If the tenant does not receive cash assistance and remains employed for one year, he or she can use these savings toward their financial goals. In 2014, Congress extended the FSS program to Section 8 Project Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) properties, giving property owners the option to develop an FSS program. Compass Working Capital’s FSS program implemented in partnership with POAH includes financial education and coaching.       

The brief highlights the changes in employment, earnings, and debt since participants’ enrollment in the Compass-POAH FSS program. The percent of participants with full-time employment increased from 22% to 36%; the unemployment rate declined from 39% to 27%; average annual earned income increased from $12,211 to $17,722; average FICO credit score increased from 587 to 616; and the percent of participants with debt in collection declined from 69% to 59%.

A larger study by Abt Associates of a Compass-FSS program with public housing agencies in Massachusetts found similar results. The study compared Compass-FSS participants to non-participants. Compass-FSS participants had an average earnings increase of $6,305 more than if they had not participated in FSS and an average bad-debt decrease of $764 less than if they had not participated in the program. The share of FSS participants with bad debt decreased from 65% to 54%, while the share of non-participants with bad debt increased from 61% to 66%.

Compass and POAH recommend Congress make the FSS permanent for PBRA properties rather than extending authorizations for the program through annual appropriations. Permanent authorization would encourage more owners to opt in. The report also recommends Congress increase the amount of funding appropriated for FSS coordinators in public housing and Section 8 PBRA programs, allowing them to serve more households.

Promoting Economic Mobility in Multifamily Housing: Initial Outcomes from Family Self-Sufficiency Programs is available at:

Abt Associates’ Evaluation of the Compass Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Programs Administered in Partnership with Public Housing Agencies in Lynn and Cambridge, Massachusetts is available at: