The Family Self-Sufficiency Program at NYCHA
“Life changing” is one of the most common words graduates of the Family Self-Sufficiency program use to describe the HUD-funded initiative that supports Section 8 voucher holders in achieving economic independence.
Both Shanti McGhee and Elizabeth Ramos, two graduates of the program, credit FSS for where they are today: college graduates gainfully employed and proud of their individual hard work to reach their goals. (Watch a video about the FSS program here.)
FSS is open to Section 8 voucher holders. Participants sign a five-year contract and set personal goals to achieve by the end of the contract period; these usually include more education or job training, obtaining employment, and becoming free of cash public assistance benefits. Ms. McGhee’s goals were to get a college degree, a stable job, and increase her salary. She graduated from Medgar Evers College with a bachelor’s degree in public administration in 2012 and currently works at the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene as an office assistant.
NYCHA’s Office of Resident Economic Empowerment & Sustainability (REES) manages FSS. Though the program is individually personalized, REES recently held its first FSS graduation ceremony to acknowledge participants’ accomplishments.
“The FSS program gave me an opportunity to invest in myself through work and education, and a reason to do better to help my family,” said Ms. McGhee, who graduated the program in 2017. “It’s good to have this program for people who may not see a way out, who don’t know what’s going to happen for them in the future. This helps guide them for five years to get education or improve their employment situation and it just makes you feel more secure.”
In addition to education, career counseling, job training, and money management, an escrow account managed by NYCHA account is set up for participants. The account grows as their household income increases and once participants graduate, they receive the money to help advance their personal goals. Graduates have used their savings for down payments on homes, higher education, and to start businesses. Ms. McGhee plans to use the money from her account to become a first-time homeowner.
Ms. Ramos credits FSS with giving her the drive she needed to accomplish her goals. Prior to receiving her Section 8 voucher and joining the program, she was homeless. While enrolled in FSS, she received a bachelor’s degree in public health from Monroe College and currently works as an executive assistant and research coordinator at Montefiore Medical Center; she graduated from FSS in 2016.
Since NYCHA launched its FSS program in 2011, 80 participants have graduated with substantial escrow payments that they can use to advance the next stage of their life goals. The number of participants has grown every year, from 50 enrollees at the end of 2011 to some 1,015 and growing in 2019.
Ms. Ramos highly recommends Section 8 voucher holders to take advantage of the program, “This is a great opportunity and they should not let it pass. It’s real and it changed my life. If I could do it with five kids, then they can do it, too.”
NYCHA manages approximately 90,000 Section 8 vouchers, the largest program of its kind in the country. Any household receiving Section 8 that is in good standing is eligible for the program.