For over thirty years now the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, more familiarly known as HUD, has been administering the Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) program. The purpose of FSS being to encourage those who are receiving HUD funded rental assistance to work their way off that assistance and gain financial independence.

FSS is open to families throughout the country who are living in public housing, have a housing choice voucher, or who are receiving housing through the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act. In the most general sense, if you live in public housing or qualify for the other two programs your rent and utilities are capped at 30% of your adjusted family income and HUD subsidizes the rest of the cost. It would therefore follow that an increase in your income would lead to an increase in the rent, at least until the point where you were no longer receiving any subsidies. That situation provides little incentive to work as what you gain in earnings you mostly lost in rent.

Thus the FSS exists. Families can choose to sign up and will enter a five year contract with their local Public Housing Authority (PHA). Based on an agreed set of work goals the family will receive on-going assistance from the PHA to achieve those goals. The immediate and long term financial incentive for those who participate lies in the fact that earnings from a family’s head of household will not increase the rent. The additional rental costs that would have been incurred are instead placed in an escrow account. The family can access that account in a limited way during the duration of the contract and can enjoy it all without reservations at the successful completion of the plan.

A relatively recent report by the Center on Budget Priorities (November 13, 2020) indicated that 70,000 households around the country were participating in the FSS. A 2017 evaluation on the FSS program in New York produced by MDRC, an independent education and social policy research organization, showed mixed results in its effectiveness to reduce families’ need for social housing programs but did show some increased asset building. It would seem that this may be little more than a curate’s egg of a program as so many are, but it exists and may at least improve some lives even in a small way.

Updates are hard to come by but here’s the most recent FSS fact sheet (published in 2016): FSSFACTSHEET.PDF (