Asset-Building Program Helps Low-Income Families Get on Path to Economic Security in Massachusetts

A new report from Abt Associates highlights a promising approach for helping participants in federal rental assistance programs increase their earnings, build assets and pay down debt.

A national nonprofit organization has developed a promising approach for helping participants in federal rental assistance programs to increase their earnings, build assets and pay down debt.

An independent evaluation report released today from Abt Associates followed rental assistance recipients over an average of 40 months as they participated in Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) programs offered by the nonprofit Compass Working Capital, in partnership with local housing authorities in Lynn and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Results show participants in the Compass FSS programs earned more on average and received less in cash welfare payments than their matched peers. The evaluation also found that participants improved their credit scores and reduced their debt, exceeding benchmarks in both areas.

FSS is a 25-year-old U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program designed to help recipients of federal rental assistance make progress toward economic security. Compass is a Boston-based asset-building nonprofit organization that partners with public housing authorities, nonprofit housing organizations, and private housing owners to administer an innovative “asset-building” approach to the FSS program. Like traditional FSS programs, Compass FSS provides participants with an escrow account that increases in value as participants’ earnings and rent contributions increase. In addition, Compass FSS offers client-driven financial coaching to help participants build their financial capability and savings, pay down high-interest debt, make progress in achieving their employment goals and improve their credit scores and budgeting.

“The Compass model focuses on helping families achieve their own aspirations for the future,” said Jeffrey Lubell, director of housing and community initiatives at Abt Associates. “Our evaluation found their FSS programs in Lynn and Cambridge successfully help residents increase their earnings and improve their credit and debt outcomes.”

Major Findings:

  • Earnings increased. Participation in Compass…

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