The Family Self-Sufficiency program, by definition, is one that enables HUD-assisted families to increase their earned income and reduce their dependency on welfare assistance and rental subsidies. To HHA staff and the over 120 residents currently participating in the program, it is so much more. This program means support, encouragement, hard-work, sacrifice, obstacles, determination but most importantly, achievement. HHA’s participants are comprised of different individuals and families all working towards the same goal: a better life for themselves and their children.
In the past five years, over 25 program participants have successfully completed the program and moved onto fair market rent, and 15 have become homeowners. Several participants have completed educational goals such as obtaining a GED or HiSET, an Associates or Bachelor’s degree, and a few are working on a graduate degree. Some have completed English for Speakers of other Languages (ESOL) courses which has opened up so many opportunities. Several completed job training programs and quickly acquired employment. Several of these individuals find a way to balance the many responsibilities of being a parent on a fairly limited income with pursuing education and maintaining employment. Participants are employed in several different sectors: healthcare, education, human services, childcare, customer service, law enforcement, and hospitality among others.
Long-time participant and HHA employee, Victor Martinez, is in the process of realizing his life-long goal of homeownership. Victor has maintained a steady employment history, learned how to budget his money and improve his credit score, and completed the Authority’s First-Time Homebuyer Workshop. When referring to the program, Victor said “the FSS Program and staff helped me set goals in my life, from building a career with the Holyoke Housing Authority to becoming a homeowner. I would never have imagined I would be able to accomplish these goals without the support that the program offered. It has truly changed my family’s life for the good and I want to say thank you.” Victor established an escrow account early on in the program and with that money, he has been able to repair his credit, and put a down payment on a home for his family.
Victor is just one of many examples of how our participants benefit from the FSS Program. FSS Case Managers, Laura and Maria, do a wonderful job remaining in contact with their participants and ensuring they are available to answer any questions, offer support, make referrals or just give a word of encouragement as needed. When asked about her work as a FSS Case Manager, she said, “I enjoy my job very much. This position allows me to service our residents. I enjoy building relationships with the tenants and I especially enjoy the look on their face when they realize they are capable of being self-sufficient. They just need a little guidance and support, but at the end of the day they are the ones doing all the hard work. I am here to encourage them and share in their experience.”
Another current participant, Adilza Nieves is constantly working hard and staying focused to complete goals she has set for herself. When asked about her time thus far in the program, she stated that “the Family Self-Sufficiency Program has been great for me. The FSS program has helped me pursue some of my goals such as getting an education. Having an escrow account set up has helped to set money aside for some of my future dreams, like buying my own home. The FSS program has also given me the opportunity keep reaching to better myself and become a well-rounded person. The staff is really helpful with answering any of my questions and reaching out to me when there are programs that I may benefit from such as special trainings. I recommend this program for those individuals who need that extra support in reaching their own financial goals.” Adilza recently received her Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts from STCC and is employed part-time at HCC as an Educational Assistant.
Maria, HCV FSS Case Manager, shared the following when asked about her role with the program: “When I inform participants that they are able to purchase a home with their voucher, they become very happy, excited and even more motivated. When they finally see money going into their escrow accounts, this helps to keep them on track with the goals they want to accomplish, knowing that this money will help them buy their own home. I love working with the tenants and making sure they feel supported.”
FSS participants are involved, aware, engaged, determined, incredible individuals’ who are such a pleasure to work with. Resident services staff always work diligently to instill hope in our participants and remind them that they are never defined by living in public housing. Where you live does not always define who you are. Participants are truly utilizing their subsidy as a stepping-stone to their future. To us, this program is an essential piece to the operations here at HHA and one that is helping to change lives every day.