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Learning from Each Other: Using FSS to Leverage WtW Resources and Achieve Common Goals in Chicago

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Agency: CHAC
(Size of WtW Program: 700 vouchers)


Research indicates that many low-income families face multiple barriers to employment, including minimal education, limited skill levels, and a poor work history. To be successful, housing authorities need to provide Welfare to Work (WtW) voucher program participants with a broad array of supportive services, particularly those related to job training and job placement. However, many housing authorities have limited staff and resources to provide the level of employment services that these participants need. It is also difficult to identify ways in which different programs can coordinate services to make efficient use of resources and maximize results.

Solution: Combining Resources to Achieve Common Goals - Family Self-sufficiency and Welfare to Work

CHAC has created a strong partnership between their Welfare to Work (WtW) and the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) programs. CHAC's FSS program encourages communities to work towards the development of local strategies to help publicly assisted families obtain employment and provide other services that will lead to economic independence and self-sufficiency. When the WtW voucher program began in 2000, CHAC had been running FSS for about six years, with over 1000 clients enrolled. Because of the cooperation with welfare agencies, schools, businesses, and other local partners, CHAC's FSS program continues to be successful, with 1300 clients currently participating. While participation in the FSS program cannot be required of WtW families, CHAC realized that it was extremely important to combine resources and goals of the two programs and encourage WtW families to participate in both. By joining FSS, WtW recipients are able to access more supportive services and reach their goal of self-sufficiency more quickly and effectively.

The following types of assistance are available through the FSS program and can help WtW and other CHAC clients:

  • Homeownership Program (Choose to Own): This program helps qualified families participating in the voucher program and FSS to purchase a home. Instead of paying a portion of the participant's rent each month, the program pays a portion of the client's mortgage.
  • Jobs for Teenage Children: CHAC provides many after-school or weekend work opportunities for teenage children, such as jobs with local retail stores, movie theaters, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Brookfield Zoo. CHAC also has a relationship with the Charles A. Hayes Family Investment Center, which has a CyberYouth program for older teens. The Cyber Youth program provides computer training and job placement.
  • Housing Modification Fund: CHAC helps voucher holders with disabilities pay some of the costs for modifying their rental units to make them more accessible. The types of projects could include the installation of ramps, motorized chair lifts, flashing alarm systems, intercoms, and may other features. Grants of up to $5,000 are available.
  • Resource Room: The resource room is located in CHAC's headquarters and is furnished with two computer-equipped work stations, table and chairs suitable for small meetings or individual work, several circular brochure stands, and shelves containing printed materials. Users have access to the Internet, a telephone, and a variety of newspapers. The type of information available includes: list of shelters, food pantries, clothing closets, and other emergency services; neighborhood profiles; information on how to identify quality school systems; listings of job fairs and training opportunities; and resources for assistance with substance abuse. View our LFEO case study about CHAC's resource room for more information.
  • Savings Account: An interest-bearing savings account is established for clients in the program. Every time income and rent increases, CHAC puts a matching dollar amount into the client's savings account. When a client has successfully completed the FSS program, they are able to keep the money that has accumulated in the savings account. CHAC currently has over $2 million total in escrow.
  • Free Transportation: CHAC offers free transportation for people with disabilities to view apartments or homes for rent.


CHAC's Special Programs Department manages WtW, FSS, Homeownership, and other services. All functions for these clients (annual recertifications, transfers, and interims) are handled by six Special Programs Housing Specialists. When a WtW client comes in for a recertification, she is interviewed by one of the housing specialists who then refers her to a FSS client service representative. The FSS client service representative then meets with the WtW voucher holder to discuss the services available through FSS and answer questions about the program. This meeting is the first step in bridging together the WtW and FSS programs.

CHAC's FSS and WtW programs are client-centered, geared toward offering support, not sanctions. The staff assists clients in identifying and creating goals, but does not force clients to adhere to specific guidelines. This leads to a comfortable atmosphere where clients feel supported to go out and make the most of their new-found opportunities. It also allows CHAC staff to centralize resources on clients that are most eager to obtain self-sufficiency, rather than chase down clients "forced" into specific programs.

CHAC's approach to marketing the FSS program to WtW clients includes several components:

  1. Monthly Newsletter. One of CHAC's most-effective marketing pieces is their monthly newsletter. In the January 2002 issue, CHAC featured a message targeting WtW voucher recipients that said, "During 2001, the FSS program helped 124 participants find full-time employment. Make 2002 the year that you enroll in the program and begin your own progress towards self-sufficiency. If you received a Welfare to Work voucher, we are especially eager to serve you."
  2. Information at Voucher Issuance Briefings. CHAC also promotes FSS to WtW recipients at voucher issuance briefings and information sessions that are held in local churches and libraries. This information is communicated to prospective clients with flyers and pamphlets that outline specific topics for discussion and available programs.
  3. Flyers and Brochures. CHAC distributes flyers and brochures to clients and members of the community on an ongoing basis. The flyers are geared specifically to WtW recipients and market FSS as a program offering employment opportunities, the chance for voucher recipients to build and obtain new skills, and opportunity for voucher recipients to become financially stable.

Through these marketing strategies, the FSS program is able to grow and WtW voucher program participants are able to take advantage of a broad array of supportive services, particularly those related to job training and job placement.


Approximately six percent of the 1300 participants in CHAC's Family Self-Sufficiency program are Welfare to Work voucher recipients. This constitutes about 9 percent of the 898 WtW voucher holders. The program is expected to grow with the recent push to educate WtW recipients further about FSS.

Contact:Jane Larkin, Manager of Special Programs, jlarkin@chacinc.com, 312-986-9400 x4615
Rachel Williams, Communications Director, rwilliams@chacinc.com, 312-986-9400 x4262

Source: Interview with CHAC staff, CHAC newsletters, and brochures.

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