Something many people don’t know is that HUD has a mission statement. And to be honest it’s a very good one. HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. In order to bring that mission to life, HUD employs many different avenues. But one program, more than any other, has the potential to transform lives.
The Family Self-Sufficiency program, or FSS, is a program available to public housing residents, Housing Choice Voucher participants, and residents of multifamily assisted housing. It consists of a 5-year contract and action plan for the participant which includes goals customized for each family to help them increase their income and build financial stability.
One of the great things about the FSS program is that it utilizes the entire village to make it happen. This becomes great news for PHAs because carrying out this program allows you space to build relationships with other organizations in your community, partner with other PHAs, and see families in your program achieve financial stability.
Let’s look at what FSS means for PHAs and partnerships…
Share the Burden
In talking about FSS, there are a few ways PHAs can utilize new partnerships to their advantage. One of the most obvious is that establishing a mutually beneficial partnership, splits the administrative burden between several parties.
Every FSS program is required by HUD to establish a Program Coordinating Committee (PCC). This committee is community-based and is responsible for overseeing the FSS program. While this is an external committee, bringing together this base of community support can do wonders for your PHA. We understand this can be a bit of a challenge for smaller or more rural PHAs. However, taking the initiative to establish the FSS program in your PHA is something that should be near the top of your priority list. We ask our resident expert Ronnie Odom, and director of professional services, about tactics to help smaller PHAs. He suggests they partner up with each other to share the PCC requirement.
Another suggestion Ronnie gave us for PHAs is to join a social service collab in your area. Many times, the organizations involved in these collabs already meet the requirements needed to be considered as a program coordinating committee.
One example is a PHA in Las Vegas who partnered with the Las Vegas Homeless Coalition. Doing so resulted in not only establishing valuable partnerships for the agency, many of them in fact, but it also had everything the PHA needed to meet the HUD PCC requirement in one place. Going this route also provided the PHA with information on available grants they were able to apply for, helping to successfully fund their agency projects.
Other PHAs should certainly be following this example, identifying opportunities to make the most of the resources in their jurisdictions.
According to Ronnie, the hurdles PHAs face when pursuing partnerships through the FSS program are twofold:
PHAs tend to isolate themselves and be territorial. Each one has its own jurisdiction, along with the rules and regulations that govern everything they do, and ultimately, they are responsible for what happens in these makeshift territories. So, whether they notice it or not, PHAs tend to think they must do everything by themselves. This is a costly mistake for agencies.
Odom says, “Humility is what is needed here.” The truth of the matter is, no matter how great you are, PHAs can’t do it all. If they actually want to advance their agencies and offer the best quality programs to their communities, it’s imperative to recognize they need help.
Breaking the back of the isolation obstacle means being intentional about joining forces with nearby PHAs, as well as connecting with like-minded organizations, and coordinating local collaborations to bring in the needed resources and perspective.
The second huge hurdle for PHAs is a lack of experienced staff.
Luckly, HUD has already considered this issue. HUD provides funding for an FSS coordinator through the Resident Opportunities and Self-Sufficiency (ROSS) grant. This means while PHAs have the ability to bring on a person of their choosing to develop and oversee their FSS program, for some reason, they aren’t tapping into this resource. In fact, most PHAs are neglecting the full range of resources available to them.
Again, this is where partnerships become very useful. Social service organizations are full of experienced candidates who are prime choices to oversee FSS for your agency. They also bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table.
For those PHAs who still have a Public Housing element, working in conjunction with Public Housing can release more resources and additional manpower as well.
The lesson here is to be fearless when seeking out creative and unexpected places for experts to add to your roster and advance your program.
Bringing it All Home
When it’s all said and done implementing FSS in your PHA is an outstanding way to develop new partnerships. They are essentially a perfect combination where wins!
Your families benefit… not only by increasing their income and financial stability. The positive effects of this program have been known to have a significant impact on their lives both personally and for the future of their entire family.
The community benefits as well, when it is full of families who are strong, stable, and independent. Strong families make strong communities and PHAs get to play a strategic role in that.
Finally, the PHA benefits through a boost in their public image and an increase in goodwill between themselves and their participants. Additionally, they will have access to an endless supply of benefits unlocked by new and unlimited partnership opportunities.
When we use these tools to strengthen and advance our agency, our families and communities will always become stronger.