Tacoma Housing Authority Uses IDAs and the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program to Create a Continuum of Opportunity for Residents
The Community Services team at the Tacoma Housing Authority in Washington understands that each resident has a different path to self-sufficiency, and each will need a different kind of support to get there. That’s why they use two complementary programs, a HUD-funded Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program and an innovative IDA project, to meet the needs of residents. Public housing residents and participants in HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program are eligible to participate in the FSS program.
Residents who are employed and motivated to invest in their future are good candidates to participate in the Housing Authority’s IDA program. The Authority’s program features two types of IDAs – an AFI-funded project through which participants save for homeownership, education, or small business, and a State-funded program that enables participants to save for other uses such as a car, computer, assisted living technology, or home improvement.
Residents who are currently unemployed or underemployed and looking to improve their economic situation may qualify for the IDA program some day, but in the mean time can request assistance and case worker support from the FSS program. The Tacoma Housing Authority FSS program, like those operated at other Public Housing Agencies across the country, has the goal of getting residents employed at an income level sufficient to support their families without public assistance. Residents who enroll in an FSS program are paired with a counselor and sign a contract with the PHA that lays out their 5-year plan for achieving financial independence, including family obligations and services needed. They are referred to job training and educational opportunities in accordance with their plan. As with all rental assistance recipients, as their income increases, so does the home rental amount. But as FSS participants, each month an amount equal to that increased rent is placed in an escrow account that they can claim at the end of their contract. Like an IDA, this helps low-income people build a “nest egg” for future investment. Unlike an IDA, though, these savings are not matched and there are no restrictions on uses of the funds after the participant completes activities in their five-year plan.
The similarity between the FSS program’s escrow account and an IDA make them a natural fit that Tacoma Housing Authority and others across the country have recognized. If the goals of an FSS participant include higher education or job training, home purchase, or small business development, then opening an IDA once they become employed can mean additional thousands of dollars for their asset purchase. And because there are no restrictions on the uses of the FSS account money, it can be used for ancillary costs associated with obtaining an asset, such as furniture or moving expenses for a house or transportation for school.
Tacoma Housing Authority is an example where the Housing Authority is the AFI grantee, but there are other options for bringing IDAs to recipients of rental assistance. In neighboring Oregon, the rural Linn-Benton Housing Authority and the urban Housing Authority of Portland are both successful sub-grantees of CASA of Oregon’s AFI network project. In other cities, AFI grantees have Housing Authorities as referral partners.
Partnering with a Housing Authority that provides strong case management – often though an FSS program – is a good source of potential IDA savers for an AFI project. Housing residents are employed or actively working towards employment, they have low-cost stable housing, and they have access to the additional support and coaching that the Housing Authority provides. According to Metesa Greene, Asset Building & Homeownership Program Manager at Tacoma Housing Authority, “If they have an IDA and they lost their job, we have computers out there where they can do job searches. We have staff who focus on employment who will work with them. And if we can’t do that, we’re going to find a partnering organization who can.” This additional support and case management means savers who experience joblessness can get back to regular deposits sooner, and lower attrition for the AFI project.
The support and counseling from the Housing Authority can continue post-purchase as well. Housing Choice Voucher recipients who elect to use the Homeownership Voucher Program (an option from HUD that allows voucher payments to be applied to a mortgage payment and other monthly homeownership expenses for up to 15 years) must meet annually with their Housing Authority case workers. This support can be extended to former public housing residents who purchase homes as well. According to Greene, “We’re in contact with them a lot and we’re able to help them if they have problems while they’re in their home. We can provide them with one-on-one counseling and training to help them so they can make sure they maintain [their asset]. We want to make sure they’re successful.”
Of course, each Housing Agency operates differently and not all have an FSS program or offer as extensive of case management as Tacoma Housing Authority does. HUD and HHS want to encourage more partnerships between AFI projects and Housing Authorities, particularly those with FSS programs, though, to leverage the similar goals of the programs. To find the Public Housing Agency nearest you, visit HUD’s PHA Contact Information page.
This article originally ran in the IDAresources.org Update Newsletter on 09/01/11 and is available for archival purposes.