Panel Paper: Building Self-Sufficiency for Housing Choice Voucher Recipients: Emerging Evidence from a Random Assignment Evaluation of the Hud Family Self-Sufficiency Program

Saturday, November 10, 2018
8222 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*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 rigorous evidence exists on the program’s effectiveness – whether it improves employment, earnings, and quality-of-life outcomes for very low-income families. 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 commission a similar random assignment evaluation of its flagship program. Alongside this evaluation, other researchers have conducted assessments of outcomes associated with FSS.

This presentation will describe emerging evidence from the new national FSS evaluation and share initial findings, following participants over the first three years of program enrollment. The eighteen housing authorities in this evaluation together enrolled a total of 2,656 voucher holders in the study, half assigned to receive FSS and the other half to a control group. The evaluation draws on a broad range of data sources, a mixed-methods approach, and examines their program participation, employment, earnings, subsidy receipt, and material and financial well-being. The results from this study will place existing evidence about FSS, including New York City’s Work Rewards FSS program and other single-site assessments, in a national context and provide insights into program experiences and program impacts that are generalizable to FSS programs around the country.