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

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A new report from Abt Associates highlights a promising approach to helping low-income families increase earnings, pay down debt

Infographic of new Compass FSS report

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 FSS was associated with an average gain in annual household earnings of $6,305.
  • Welfare income declined. Participation in Compass FSS was associated with an average decrease of almost $500 in household welfare income.
  • Credit scores improved. Compass FSS participants who entered the program with a FICO® credit score saw an average score increase of 23 points, from 617 to 640. The share of Compass FSS participants who had a FICO® Score increased by 7 percent, from 91 to 98 percent. Participants with a prime FICO® Score (above 660) also increased 14 percentage points, from 23 to 37 percent.
  • Debt decreased. Compass FSS participants experienced an average decrease in total derogatory debt of $764. For these participants, credit card debt also decreased on average by $655.

“The FSS program is a promising model for expanding pathways to economic opportunity for families who live in federally subsidized housing in the United States,” said Sherry Riva, Compass executive director. “These findings deepen our commitment to expanding the scope and impact of the FSS program on a regional and national scale, so that a greater share of families have the opportunity to take advantage of this powerful program.”

This evaluation is one of the first to compare results for FSS participants and comparison groups. While results for local programs may vary, today’s report confirms that FSS programs can achieve successful outcomes for participants. The study was supported by the Oak Foundation and HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research.

To read the full report, visit: http://abtassociates.com/CompassFSS.

--FICO and FICO® Score are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Fair Isaac Corporation.

About Abt Associates
Abt Associates is an engine for social impact, harnessing the power of data and grounded insight to bring people from vulnerability to security worldwide. We provide research and technical assistance services globally, working in the areas of health, environmental and social policy, technology and international development. http://www.abtassociates.com

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