Columbia Housing's Family Self Sufficiency Program Helps Residents Achieve Goals
Sandra Boone moved into one of Columbia Housing's public housing communities in 2010 as a young mother striving for self-sufficiency. By her own admission, she spent the next 5 years setting and working on goals so she could better care for herself and her family. That's when she met Cynthia Boykin, a caseworker for the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, who set her on a trajectory that changed her life. After 5 years on the program, Sandra had gone back to school, earned a degree, bought and paid for a car, earned $13,000 in an escrow account, and purchased her first home.
FSS is a program designed to assist Section 8 participants and Public Housing residents by connecting them to services and resources within the community. Upon enrollment in the program, FSS families have access to job search assistance, referrals to available trainings, employment opportunities, and on-going case management services. The FSS Program gives participants the possibility to qualify for a special savings (escrow) account and the opportunity to apply for the Section 8 Homeownership Program. Families, like Sandra Boone's, that complete the program may withdraw funds from these accounts for any purpose after five years. Thanks to a new round of funding, Columbia Housing looks forward to helping more families like the Boone family.
In January 2020, Columbia Housing was awarded a $109,352 HUD FSS grant-- the second highest award in the state. "The Family Self-Sufficiency Grant provides us with the resources to continue providing valuable services for families who are participating in the program", says Interim Executive Director Ivory Mathews.
FSS participants sign a five-year contract that requires the head of the household to obtain employment and remain free of public assistance for at least one-year prior to the completion of the contract. The amount credited to the family's escrow account is based on increases in the family's earned income during the term of the FSS contract. If the family successfully completes its FSS contract, the family receives the escrow funds that can be used for obtaining goals, including debt reduction to improve credit scores, educational expenses, or a down payment on a home.
What is an escrow account? An interest-bearing account established by the PHA on behalf of the FSS family where deposits are made throughout the duration of the family's participation in the FSS program if, and when a family's rent increases as a result of increased earned income of the FSS family.