An innovative federal program to lift families out of poverty is being implemented more effectively in Greater Boston compared to nationally, according to research conducted by the McCormack Graduate School's Center for Social Policy (CSP) and the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership (MBHP). But the study also underscores the severe challenges families face in breaking out of poverty.
The Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program targets families receiving Section 8 housing vouchers, helping voluntary participants access education and job training, as well as incentives to encourage savings. The study showed that, over five years, local outcomes were better than national results: enrollment rates were higher (14 percent vs. 5 percent), asset accumulation was greater ($13,598 vs. $5,607), and the termination rate was lower (17 percent vs. 37 percent).
The study was made public February 9 at an event hosted by MBHP. Lead author Brandynn Holgate, a CSP senior research associate, said that, on average, graduates of the local program, administered by MBHP, "tripled their earned income."
Other panelists included program participant Fabrice Montes, MBHP program director David Kelley, Sherry Riva of Compass Working Capital, Stefanie Shull of CONNECT, and CSP director Susan Crandall, who moderated the discussion.
Alongside these indicators of success, the program faces obstacles to greater participation. Enrollment rates were low and only 19 percent of graduates ultimately move off of Section 8. The report also identified obstacles for participants, such as low wages, a lack of career ladders, discrimination, and the ever-escalating cost of education.
Following this discussion, panelists responded to questions that explored the complexities of the journey towards financial stability, and possible solutions. As panelist Sherry Riva of Compass Working Capital, an MBHP partner organization, observed, “Families want to work and want to get ahead, and our systems often make it hard to do that.”
“Clients are looking for opportunities to grow and are looking for opportunities to change,” confirmed MBHP’S FSS program director David Kelley.
The research was funded by The Boston Foundation.