Family Self-Sufficiency Escrow Accounts

NormaR When she started escrow, Norma, seemed almost surprised.  “It really works!” she exclaimed.  Yes, it does.

Twenty two (22) Participants began Escrow during 2012.  (We’ve already had 5 for 2013.)  Residents plan to use their funds in a variety of ways, but here in Brockton we let them take out portions ahead of the five-year FSS term, under certain conditions, of course.

Last year, three Participants used some of their funds to repair their vehicle, a huge plus when you consider that we all need to be able to get to work every day. Another popular use for a partial withdrawal is money to pay for classes, books, or tutoring for a breadwinner who is enrolled post-secondary. 

We’ve even paid for things like real estate exams, or nursing certificate exams.

We are asked a lot of questions about these accounts. Often, people think they “qualify” for them, almost as if they were some sort of grant.  The real story is much more empowering, however.

Escrow begins, and grows, according to a resident’s initiative. It only happens when a resident reports more earned income.  You get a job, you pay more rent.  That’s the rule of public housing and the rule of HUD’s HCV program.  If you are not on FSS, that rent increase goes to the agency. 

But if you are on FSS, some of those rent increases (if they are due to earned income) go into a savings account.  Yes.  They do, really.  Ask Norma!

Escrow Accounts

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Residents in HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program, or living in Federally-funded public housing, pay rent on a sliding scale fee.  As their income grows, their rent does too.  But Family Self-Sufficiency residents can have these rent increases put into an escrow savings account, (if the increase is due to earned income.)

When we explained the Family Self-Sufficiency program to Nathaniel, he immediately requested to join.   He understood that, since he is in school full time right now with no earned income to report, this is the best year for him to enroll. 

Being a full time student while raising two teenagers and a toddler is not without challenges, especially since Nathaniel is a single parent, but he has solved many of the difficulties. 

“We’re focused and organized,” he explained.  “We keep everyone’s schedule listed on a board in the kitchen, and we hold family meetings to talk about anything that is on anyone’s mind.  Every quarter, we share report cards, even Dad.”

Nathaniel believes this helps keep his boys focused on their own school careers.  “I admit to my own poor grades on the rare times that it happens,” he explains, “So they will know how to learn from mistakes.  You can’t just give up.”

We’re all in this together!

weblogo blogFamily Self-Sufficiency (FSS) is the vehicle by which residents of the Brockton Public Housing Authority become free of government assistance in this and future generations.  That’s kind of a mouthful, but what we’re really saying is that everything we do should bring our residents back to this mission. 

Because economic self-sufficiency is a skill that can be taught, and as the largest landlord in our town for low-income individuals and families, we should be using creative and cost-effective measures to help residents of all ages learn these skills.  

We can’t know we’re effective, though, unless we have established clear methods to mobilize residents, effective means of measuring progress, and identified indicators to evaluate trends so we can respond accordingly.  And there’s the mouthful!

Because too often the questions we get from other PHA’s relate to how to implement the FSS program.  So, for now, we’ll discuss those issues. 

Eventually, though, I’d like to get back to the bigger picture, which is how to craft a program that cuts across PHA divides (both the Housing Choice Voucher and Public Housing residential programs) and addresses all family members.

But we cannot do this alone.  An insulated effort can become too narrowly defined and thus lose its impact. So please post your thoughts.  After all, we’re Public Housing, and “we’re all in it together,” as the song says!