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Learning from Each Other: Meeting the Needs of WtW Voucher Holders with Tailored Services through the FSS Program

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This site also features a Learning From Each Other case study on the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority's Housing Referral Network. NHHFA's Housing Referral Network provides housing counseling and referral services to very low-income households. View the NHHFA case study on this innovative program for more information.


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 -   Challenge
 -   Solution
 -   Implementation
 -   Results
 -   Recommendations and More Information

Agency: New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority (NHHFA)
(Size of WtW Program: 500 vouchers)

Challenge

Attracting new participants and maintaining client interest is a challenge faced by many Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) programs. By not participating in the FSS program, WtW voucher holders and other Section 8 tenants miss out on services that can help them to obtain and maintain self-sufficiency. However, organizations that are trying to increase enrollment in the FSS program often struggle when trying to find attractive options for tenants that can meet a wide variety of needs. It is also a challenge to enlist the necessary help of the local housing authority, other agencies, and local businesses that can support FSS.

Solution: Use FSS to Provide Interesting Options and Helpful Programs that Can Help Voucher Holders Achieve Self-sufficiency

Through informal needs assessments, the New Hampshire Housing Finance Agency (NHHFA) identified the greatest needs of their voucher clientele. With these needs in mind, NHHFA created programs through FSS that meet these needs and are tailored to the interests of voucher holders.

  • SMART Account. Participants said they are looking for ways to save money on a limited budget. In response, NHHFA developed an Individual Development Account with a matched savings plan.
  • Computer-Lease Program. Participants desire access to computers for school and skills training. NHHFA responded by creating a program that offers low-cost, refurbished computer equipment for home use.
  • Virtual Classroom. Participants said they would like to participate in skill-building workshops, but have transportation, childcare, and scheduling barriers to attending workshops onsite. To make available curriculums more accessible, NHHFA developed free, online training.
  • Loan & Grant Program. Participants need funds to help meet their goals, but often cannot qualify for conventional loans because of credit issues or limited budgets that cannot support payments. NHHFA met this need with grants and low interest loans.
  • Wheels to Work Collaboration. Participants need reliable transportation but often cannot qualify for conventional financing to purchase a car. In partnership with a local non-profit, NHHFA provides reliable cars at affordable prices.

Implementation

For successful implementation of the above options, NHHFA collaborated with partner organizations and the local housing authority.

  • SMART Account. The IDA Program was established through the NH Community Loan Fund, which recruits various community partners to establish a consortium of participating agencies. The NH Community Loan Fund contacted the FSS program at NHHFA to see if there was interest in participating. After several planning sessions involving all the community partners, the program was established. Funds for the program (more than 2.6 million dollars) are provided by Providian Bank, the NH Community Development Finance Authority, Citizens Bank, State of NH-TANF funds, Federal AFIA (Assets for Independence Act), and the NH Charitable Foundation.
  • Computer-Lease Program. The International Chamber for Economic Development (INTERCED), a local non-profit focused on improving economic conditions for low-income people through the use of technology, was starting a computer refurbishing and distribution program. The program's goal was to provide computer equipment to low-income households for home use. Since INTERCED did not have a client base, NHHFA's FSS program formed a partnership with them. Responsibilities of each partner were discussed and are outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding.
  • Virtual Classroom. NHHFA discovered that local colleges and Universities were offering online education through a server host called Blackboard.com. Blackboard allows short-term enrichment courses to be created and hosted on their site free of charge. The FSS Coordinator developed a plan for offering workshops through Blackboard's online service to FSS participants who had access to computers and the Internet. NHHFA then collaborated with other agencies and local businesses to develop curriculums relevant to the needs of FSS participants.
  • Loan & Grant Program. Incorporated into the Housing Authority's operating budget, NHHFA set aside $40,000 for the FSS Loan & Grant Program. The funds are available through application with the FSS case managers. NHHFA also established a Loan & Grant Review Committee to review the applications and make determinations of eligibility based on established guidelines. These guidelines include a client's standing in the program based on the Contract of Participation, case manager recommendation, household budget, current employment and history, need, and proposed use of funds in relation to the goals of the Individual Training and Service Plan. Past credit problems are not a prohibiting factor in receiving funds, although willingness to participate in credit counseling is often required. Grants are limited to $750 per request with a lifetime limit of $1,500 and do not need to be repaid. Loans are limited to $4,000 and are offered at a one-percent rate of interest.
  • Wheels to Work Collaboration. Wheels to Work, a non-profit program operated through a local community action program, established a vehicle donation and distribution program and worked with various referring agencies who serve low-income people entering the workforce. Financing of the vehicles was supported through a local bank with stringent credit requirements and market interest rates. Since a large number of FSS participants have past credit issues, participation in this program was limited. Wheels to Work and NHHFA's FSS Program collaborated to allow financing for FSS participants through NHHFA's Loan & Grant Program. FSS participants now have access to low-mileage, reliable vehicles, that are priced well-below book value, and financed with a one-percent interest rate. The credit requirements must meet the established guidelines of our Loan & Grant Program as stated above.

Results

Since offering programs tailored to the needs of voucher holders, participation in the FSS Program has increased 60 percent. A waiting list has been established with new applications arriving every month. Results of specific programs are as follows:

  • SMART Account.Since October 2001, 32 FSS participants have used the SMART Account. These participants are depositing $25.00 - $100.00 a month and receive $3.00 in match money for every dollar deposited. They are each saving for one of three goals, as established by the program: homeownership, post-secondary education, or small business development. Several participants also deposited up to $500.00 of their income tax refund and received a $3.00 match for each of those dollars deposited.
  • Computer-Lease Program. Since February 2002, 14 computers have been distributed to FSS households through the Computer-Lease Program. Some participants are using the computers to improve their skills in MS Office and the Internet, while others are enjoying the convenience of having a computer at home for homework assigned in their college courses.
  • Virtual Classroom. Since February 2002, 26 registrations have been received for classes in the Virtual Classroom. From the convenience of home, participants are learning at their own pace while enrolled in workshops for computer skills, banking basics, employment skills, remedial academics, and career specific training.
  • Loan & Grant Program. Participants have received $40,000 in loan and grant funds this fiscal year. These funds were used for such things as auto repairs and purchases, dental work, computer lease fees, education expenses, and debt consolidation.
  • Wheels to Work Collaboration. Since March 2002, five FSS participants have financed Wheels to Work vehicles through the FSS Loan Program. All of these participants were denied conventional bank financing because of problem credit or a lack of established credit history. The vehicles distributed were all 1997 or newer with less than 60,000 miles. The average loan payment is less than $100/month and carries a term of 2.5 years.

Recommendations and More Information

If other FSS programs are interested in establishing programs similar to those offered by NHHFA, NHHFA staff recommends using the following resources:

  • SMART Account. Program staff can contact Chris Lebrun, IDA Program Manager at the NH Community Loan Fund (603.224.6669) or access the following Web sites for general information about Assets for Independence Demonstration Programs:

    http://www.publicgood.com
    http://aspe.os.dhhs.gov/CFDA/p93602.htm
    NH Community Loan Fund's website: http://www.nhclf.org/

  • Computer-Lease Program. Contact local colleges and Universities that have IT (Information Technology Programs) to find out about computer donation, refurbishing, and distribution programs. Many post-secondary schools provide refurbishing of equipment as part of student internships for credit. Local businesses often donate used equipment to these school programs. Also contact large, local businesses for potential donations of equipment when they replace existing equipment. If you have localized participants and do not want to develop a home distribution program, consider setting up a computer lab using equipment from these resources.
  • Virtual Classroom. Visit http://www.Blackboard.com for information on how to create online training and education courses. The coursework can be set up to be self-correcting, so the time investment is mostly in the development of the curriculum. Call on local agencies that offer free workshops to low-income families to see if they would be willing to work with you to adapt their curriculum to an online learning format.
  • Loan and Grant Program. Try approaching area banks and large corporations for support in establishing a financial assistance program similar to NHHFA's Loan and Grant Program. Provide much publicity to the donating companies and follow-up with personal success stories to continue or increase donations.
  • Wheels to Work Collaboration. If there is a similar vehicle donation program in your area, contact them to establish a partnership. If there is no such program in your area, contact local auto dealers to see if they might be interested in donating vehicles for your participants. Start small scale & provide much publicity and personal success stories to increase interest in such a partnership.

Contact: Torey Kortz, New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, (603) 310-9296, Tkortz@nhhfa.org


Source: NHHFA staff

 
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