Employment and Housing: Early Findings from the Family Self-Sufficiency Study

Here at the Alliance, we often say that the answer to homelessness is housing. Though there are many ways to ensure people have access to housing, one of them is by connecting them to employment. If people are employed in living-wage jobs, they should be able to afford housing.

Over the past several years, MDRC, a nonprofit that conducts research on social policy, has examined a demonstration project to explore ways to increase employment and earnings for families living in subsidized housing. In 2012, MRDC released early findings from the project in a report, “Working Toward Self-Sufficiency: Early Findings from a Program for Housing Voucher Recipients in New York City.” (MDRC will release a second report of longer-term findings soon.)

MRDC focused on the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, a federal program that works to decrease reliance on housing vouchers by providing case management to prepare families for and connect them to employment, increasing families’ share of the rent as their income increases, and diverting families’ increased rent payments into interest-accruing accounts that are paid out to them upon program completion.

The logic behind the FSS program is this: if families are better employed and make more money, they won’t have as great of a need for housing subsidized by the government.

MRDC’s project examined three programs and a control group:

  1. The FSS program;
  2. An “enhanced” FSS program that provides families with education and training courses as well as financial incentives to maintain full-time employment; and
  3. A program that consists of just those incentives, without the FSS program.

The 2012 report reached several conclusions. (It is important to keep in mind that these are early findings, after all, and they may change when long-term results are reported.) Some of these conclusions are:

  • The FSS program alone doesn’t have a consistent impact on employment and earnings outcomes of the participants;
  • The enhanced FSS program doesn’t have a consistent impact on employment and earnings outcomes for the entire sample. However, this program does show an increase of 45 percent (as compared to the control group) in average employment rates and earnings for the participants who were unemployed when the study began.
  • Though the monetary incentives without the FSS program fail to show an impact across the entire sample group, they do have an impact on participants who received food stamps when the study began.
  • None of the three program models have an impact on participants who were employed when the study began.

Though these findings may seem disheartening, it is important to remember that this is one of the first studies on the impact of incentives for employment on housing voucher recipients. The detailed report did show promising results for particular subgroups, if not for entire sample groups. Every study that is conducted is a step taken toward honing programs to better serve participants, and therefore helps ensure that programs are working as effectively as possible.

Jim Riccio, one of the authors of the report, will be presenting at the Alliance’s 2015 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in San Diego this month. During workshop 1.7, Strategies for Overcoming Employment Barriers, Riccio will present longer-term findings from this study that build off of the findings from this report. If you’re coming to the conference, you definitely don’t want to miss it!