Panel Paper: Assessing the Effectiveness of the Federal Family Self-Sufficiency Program: Early Findings from the National Evaluation

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Horner (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Nandita Verma, MDRC

HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program is the nation’s main federal strategy to increase employment and earnings and reduce reliance on government subsidies among Housing Choice Voucher recipients. It combines referrals to employment and other services with an asset-building mechanism known as “escrow accounts.” The escrow component turns rent increases that arise from increased earnings into savings, which participants can receive after they complete their employment goals and are not receiving cash welfare. Together, these components are expected to help families increase earnings from work, reduce reliance on cash assistance programs, and build assets to transition to financial independence. While the rules related to the escrow account are defined by HUD, local housing authorities can decide how best to connect families to services to assist them with their goals — an element of the flexibility offered by the original legislation.

Despite the prominent role of FSS for more than two decades, little reliable evidence exists on the program’s effectiveness. That is beginning to change. New York City’s Opportunity NYC—Work Rewards demonstration, the first-ever randomized control trial testing the FSS program, provides evidence of the program’s effectiveness in one context. In 2012, HUD took major steps to build evidence and launched a national evaluation of its flagship program. This presentation will describe the new national FSS evaluation and share initial findings covering the first 18 months participants were enrolled in the program.


Eighteen housing authorities operating FSS programs for Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) recipients agreed to participate in this evaluation and together enrolled a total of 2,656 voucher holders in the study. The results from this study will place existing evidence about FSS, including New York City’s Work Rewards FSS program, the first randomized trial of a single FSS program, in a national context and provide insights into program experiences and impacts that are generalizable to FSS programs around the country.