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FSS Lifts Up Local Family

Interest rates are up, inflation is up, and don’t even get me started on the craziness of high food prices. True, there will always be financial ups and downs in life, but for some people, even the slightest increase in a bill or a minor change in circumstance can mean the difference in being able to afford groceries or, in some cases, lead to homelessness. That is where the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) comes in.

FSS, which was adopted by the Clinton County Housing Authority (CCHA) in January 2020, is a nationwide program to help HUD rent-assisted families become self-sufficient. The program’s primary goal is for participants to increase their earned income while in the program and reduce their dependency on government assistance and rental subsidies.

Recently, FSS was able to help one such family take a big step forward. “Amy and Connor Munro are our 5th graduates of the FSS program. They joined the program in December of 2021 with the goals of self-sustaining employment, improving their credit score, and homeownership. They saved $11,682.74 in their escrow account,” said Tia Walker, FSS coordinator.

Each family that is eligible for the program works with the FSS Case Manager to establish secondary goals to help them achieve the main goal of the program. These goals can include continuing education, improving credit scores, purchasing reliable transportation, childcare, and even homeownership. Participants have up to five years to complete these goals but can graduate from the program sooner.

CCHA partners with several local agencies to help clients obtain their goals. One agency partnership is with Davis Real Estate, which has generously been teaching participants all about the home buying process, from the basics to the final closing process. Once participants in the program gain employment, their rent increases. The housing authority sets aside this increase into an escrow account each month. FSS participants are saving part of their rent while working. After a family completes all their goals, they graduate from the program and receive a check for money they were able to escrow.

“Connor and I moved to Youngs Avenue a few months prior to having our oldest son with big hopes and dreams,” said Amy Munro. “He was working your minimum wage grill job, and I was restricted due to complications with our pregnancy, so income was limited. Tia approached us with the prospect of joining the FSS while our rent was still low and explained that the idea behind the program was to help individuals like Connor and I be the best version of ourselves, strive for better wages and employment, and achieve those big hopes and dreams on our own. We started attending the homeownership workshops, got Connor a better-paying job at First Quality, and started saving up money to buy our first home. We then had our second son, and while it took about two years to get to where we are today, I would definitely say we have made incredible progress in a short period of time.”

When asked what made her want to bring the FSS program to Clinton County, Hilyar responded, “To help our tenants become self-sufficient and reach their goals in life. Sometimes, people land on hard times, and if you have ever been there or worked with clients who have, then you know that it’s a hard place to pull yourself out of. Clients get a job but then rent increases, assistance with food goes down, gas money to get to and from work, and childcare is either hard to find or impossible to afford. At the end of the day, you’re spending more money on expenses to have a job than you are making, leaving nothing to put into savings for their future. The FSS program can help by putting the difference in earned income into an escrow account that they can have access to once they graduate from the program.”

When asked what her hope for the FSS program was moving forward, Hilyar said, “My hope for the program is that we continue to grow our tenant’s participation and that we have many more tenants become self-sufficient and graduate from the program.”

“We are now in the beginning stages of looking for our first home,” said Amy Connor. “The biggest thing for us is that we never had any guidance regarding finances or building credit. It’s not taught in school, and it should be. Tia’s workshops helped us gain that knowledge. We have chosen a realtor to work with, have a good lender to help us through the entire process, and have had so much support from Tia every single step of the way. Soon, we will be buying our first home for our two beautiful little boys and will start the next chapter of our lives as a family, thanks to the FSS program. If there’s any doubt in your mind about this program, don’t hesitate. It truly is designed to help you become self-sufficient and achieve whatever goals you may have.”

“Connor and Amy are a testament to what FSS is supposed to look like,” said Hilyar. “They joined the program with the goal of obtaining self-sufficiency and were able to secure self-sustaining employment, increase their credit scores, and complete the homeownership workshops. They should be incredibly proud of their accomplishments. This is just the beginning of their journey, and I have no doubt they will accomplish their future goals.”