Panel: Emerging Evidence on the Effectiveness of the Federal Family Self-Sufficiency Program for Housing Choice Voucher Households
(Housing and Community Development)

Thursday, November 2, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Horner (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Nandita Verma, MDRC
Panel Chairs:  Regina Gray, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Discussants:  William M. Rohe, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Can Asset-Building Strategies Help Housing Choice Voucher Households Improve Their Earnings and Credit Scores?
Jeffrey Lubell, Judy Geyer, Lesley Freiman and Micah Villarreal, Abt Associates, Inc.

Recipients of housing assistance often struggle in the labor market. Their employment challenges partly reflect human capital limitations, personal and situational challenges, and other impediments to work. In addition, housing subsidies rules could discourage them from working or advancing as much as they could, out of fear of losing their subsidies entirely or having them reduced if their incomes were to grow. The U.S. has experimented with various strategies, including immediate and more deferred financial incentives, and incentives operating from within or outside the rent rules established by the federal housing assistance system. For Housing Choice Voucher (or Section 8) recipients, HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program is the main tool to promote work and help families progress toward economic self-sufficiency. It includes services to help recipients prepare for and find work (through case management or coaching and referrals) and an asset-building feature intended to serve as a work incentive while allowing families to accumulate some savings to advance their life goals and improve their economic security. Yet, evidence on the performance and effectiveness of FSS is sparse – despite a growing literature on voucher holders’ labor market experiences, many questions about those experiences relevant to improving work-focused polices for the Housing Choice Voucher population remain unanswered.

The proposed panel includes three papers that will examine emerging evidence about FSS’ effectiveness. Drawing on different methodological perspectives, each paper will examine whether – and how – the program makes a difference. One paper will draw on the first random assignment study of a local FSS implementation and present one of the first comprehensive benefit-cost estimates of a local FSS program. Taking a fuller accounting of the economic value of the interventions studied, it estimates the benefit-cost of the program from the standpoints of families, taxpayers, and the general public. Using a 10-year horizon, it estimates the program’s benefits and costs for four years beyond the program period and looks at the return on investment in post-program years. The second paper describes innovative approaches in two FSS programs and presents results from an evaluation using quasi-experimental methods (for the analysis of earnings and public benefits receipt) and a benchmarking approach (for the analysis of credit and debt) to provide evidence regarding the effects of the programs on the earnings, public benefits receipt, credit scores, and debt levels of program participants. The third paper reports on early findings from the HUD national FSS impact evaluation. This study draws on its random assignment design to speak to questions about program effectiveness in increasing employment, earnings, and economic mobility of voucher-assisted household. The early results will show how participants engage in FSS, the practices used by sites, and early program impact. Combined, these papers begin to fill the gap around promising practices, who benefits, and whether FSS is an effective strategy to help families in the Housing Choice Voucher program move toward self-sufficiency.

The discussant, a housing policy expert with broad expertise studying self-sufficiency programs, will reflect on the findings and comment on their policy relevance.

See more of: Housing and Community Development
See more of: Panel