Moving from Housing Assistance to Home Ownership: Examining the Asset-Building Approach of the Family Self-Sufficiency Program

Authors: Jessa Loomis*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography, Gender
Keywords: housing, poverty, geographies of money and finance, inequality, feminist
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Astor Ballroom I, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

As part of the neoliberal restructuring of state support, social welfare programs have increasingly taken an asset-building approach to alleviating poverty. In this model of welfare provisioning, low-income populations are encouraged to accumulate assets because building wealth, rather than solely increasing income, is believed to be a successful strategy for achieving financial stability and reducing dependence on the state. A key focus of this asset-building approach centers on housing. In this paper, I examine the Family Self-Sufficiency program (FSS), a federally-subsidized program started in the United States in 1990 that has received renewed attention for its novel approach to asset-building. FSS is a program for low-income individuals who are living in public housing, or are receiving some form of rental assistance from the state. While increases in an individual’s earnings would usually trigger an increase in rent, participants in the FSS program instead have additional earnings set aside in an escrow account. Participants receive this money at the end of the five-year program and are encouraged to use it towards housing, education or transportation. While at first blush this program seems to be an innovative way to support struggling families, upon closer inspection the program’s goal to reduce the use of public assistance by promoting asset-building raises numerous questions. This paper will explore the FSS model as a way to understand asset-building anti-poverty approaches more generally, and will specifically explore the role of home ownership as a mechanism to “reduce dependency” on public housing and other forms of state assistance.

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