Compass helps secure major policy victory for FSS program

As part of our mission, Compass is committed to shaping national practice and policy to promote financial security and economic mobility for families with low incomes. 

Recently that work took a big step forward, with the passage of the federal Family Self-Sufficiency Act. This legislation will make several important changes to the Family Self-Sufficiency program, which is the federal government's largest asset-building program for families with low incomes, reaching more than 75,000 families each year in communities across the country.

Compass has been working for over a year with our policy partners and members of Congress to advance this legislation. Several aspects of the bill were surfaced from our direct work on the ground with families in our local FSS programs and from partners in our National FSS Network. I also testified before Congress on this legislation last fall.

It is very encouraging for us to see Congress take action to improve the program, which points to continued strong bipartisan support for FSS. For those of you familiar with how the FSS program works, changes made in the legislation that are particularly important to our work include:

  • a change to an existing rule that prevents families who earn more than 50% of the area median income from building escrow savings in FSS (now increased to 80%)
  • permanent authorization for private owners to offer the FSS program
  • the creation of an innovation fund at HUD to support promising new approaches to operating the FSS program
  • a requirement that HUD implement a performance-based system for awarding FSS grants

We are thrilled with this outcome. It is a major milestone in our push to expand the scope and impact of the FSS program on a national scale. We look forward to working with our partners to help shape HUD's implementation of the bill's provisions over the course of the next year.

Compass joins the Closing the Women's Wealth Gap initiative

Compass recently joined Closing the Women's Wealth Gap, a national initiative to advance policies and strategies that build wealth for low-wealth women and women of color. 

As the initiative notes, "In recent years, the national discussion about the causes of—and solutions to—inequality has focused on income. But for women, a focus on income alone is insufficient because the gender wealth gap is far greater than the income gap."

This initiative is closely connected to the work that Compass does every day with women and their families. The majority of Compass clients are women of color with dependent children. Media wealth for single Black women and Latina women is just pennies on the dollar compared to white men and white women. 

Click here to learn more.

Work Requirements for Housing Assistance Are a Disaster

Slate's A Better Life Lab published an article on the FSS program featuring Compass client, Gardite, one of many remarkable clients graduating from our FSS program operated in partnership with Cambridge Housing Authority.

The article is a testament to the importance of Compass' work on a national scale, particularly amidst efforts by the federal administration to implement work requirements in housing and other public assistance program.

Congress Should Increase HUD Funding in 2019 to Prevent Voucher Cuts, Help Children Escape Poverty

Compass and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities both call on Congress to increase funding for the Family Self-Sufficiency program to $100 million in 2019, which would allow up to 30,000 more families to participate.
Read more here.

10th Annual Breakfast Benefit

This year’s breakfast program featured stories from Compass clients and staff, and a special guest speaker - Andrea Campbell, the new President of Boston's City Council. It was also a chance for us to lift up and celebrate the ways in which our work has grown over the past year, including the expansion of our National Network to serve mission-aligned partners in seven states across the country.

Amatullah Mervin, one of our client speakers, shared her experience as a participant in the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program that we operate in partnership with Cambridge Housing Authority. In her remarks, Amatullah talked about what the program has meant for her, her sister (who is also enrolled in the program), and their family: "People talk about the cycle of poverty, and I hesitate to say this, but it can really be more of a curse. We’ve seen how it passes from one generation to the next...My sister and I are both breaking that cycle for ourselves and for our family."

We also shared a video featuring Lidia German, who is a recent graduate of the FSS program that we operate in partnership with Lynn Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development. Lidia is one of 46 clients whom we celebrated at our second annual FSS graduation in Lynn last week. Together, these 46 clients have saved over $310,000 in their FSS savings accounts, and used those savings to reach their financial goals. For Lidia, that goal was to own a home, where she could gather her children and grandchildren together. As Lidia shared, “I have accomplished more than I ever thought I could. It’s the best feeling to be able to own my home.”
View photographs from the Breakfast here.

Brown Advisory NOW 2018

Sherry Riva, Compass' Founder and Executive Director,  joined a panel discussion last month on the women's wealth gap. The panel was a part of NOW, Brown Advisory’s flagship client investment conference. Sherry was joined on the panel by Elena Chavez Quezada, a founding partner for the Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap Initiative. Thanks to Brown Advisory for lifting up this important topic, and for including Compass in the conversation.

Boston Magazine: The 100 Most Influential People in Boston

In its May issue, Boston Magazine published its annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in Boston. Two members of the Compass family made the list this year, including Greg Shell (pictured here), our founding board member, and Betty Francisco, Compass' General Counsel. We are thrilled to see both these leaders recognized alongside many others who play major roles in shaping the city of Boston.
Click here to see the full list.

Naming Our Core Values

Over the past year, Compass entered into an organization-wide process to define our organization's core values. While these values have always been at the core of what we do and how we do it, the act of coming together to thoughtfully articulate them was an important exercise at this moment in our organization's history. These core values guide everything we do, from how we work together as a team to how we engage with our clients and partners in pursuit of our mission and vision. Together, they make a powerful statement about who we are and what we stand for at Compass.
Click here to see the full list.

AFCPE® Financial Literacy Month Spotlight: Carlos Langa, Esq., AFC®

AFCPE® (Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education®) is celebrating Financial Literacy Month with a spotlight on Accredited Financial Counselors across the country, including Compass Program Manager, Carlos Langa.
Click here to learn about his favorite personal finance resources. 

Abt Policy Brief

Following the release of two reports from their study of our local Family Self-Sufficiency programs, Abt Associates recently released a brief on the implications of these studies for national practice and policy.
Click here to read more and to view the brief in full.

Lynn, MA 2018 Graduation

On April 12th, Compass and our partners at Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development honored 46 graduates of the Lynn FSS program. Together, these graduates saved over $310,000 in their FSS savings accounts, and used those savings to reach their financial goals. It was an honor for us to celebrate these incredible families.
View photographs from the graduation here. 


Abt Associates releases interim cost-benefit analysis of Compass programs

Today, the global research firm Abt Associates released an interim cost-benefit analysis of Compass Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) programs in Lynn and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The study found that participants in these programs gained more than $10,000 in increased income over a five-year period as a result of participation in the program, at a net cost to the government of only $276 per participant. The $10,000 figure accounts for reductions to participants’ federal benefits, such as federal welfare benefits, as their earnings improved. These reductions - along with other cost savings - offset 97 percent of the cost of administering the programs.  

Click to read the press release and full report.

Early Results from Compass-POAH Partnership Captured in Whitepaper

For the past two years, Compass has partnered with the nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) to implement some of the very first FSS programs in the country for families who live in properties like the ones POAH owns and manages: federally subsidized affordable housing that is owned and managed by a private organization or company. Early participant outcomes from these programs have been very promising, and are captured in this whitepaper that we co-authored with POAH about the partnership. Click here to read the report.


Social Innovations Journal: The Compass Family Self-Sufficiency Model

Social Innovations Journal: The Compass Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Model

The Winter 2017 issue of the Social Innovations Journal is a collection of articles on promising social innovations that have been introduced in Greater Boston, including a piece by Sherry Riva, Compass's Founder and Exectuvie Director, on the organization's innovative, evidence-based model for the federal Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. Click the image below to read the full article and view the rest of the issue.

National Network Annual Convening 2017

On November 14th-15th, we hosted an Annual Convening of partners in our National Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Network. This event was an opportunity to gather all of our current Network partners, plus Compass staff, for two days of learning, networking, and planning for our upcoming year of work together. Partners joined us from all over the country, including: Chicago, IL; Independence, MO; Portland, ME; Jackson, MS; and elsewhere. The two days were filled with energy, excitement, and a powerful sense of community and partnership. We are grateful to have such mission aligned national partners and look forward to the year ahead. We hope you enjoy these photographs from the convening. 

Brown Advisory's Boston Innovates Series - The Future of the American Dream: Confronting the Wealth Divide

Thanks to our friends in Brown Advisory's Boston office for convening a roundtable discussion last night on “The Future of the American Dream: Confronting the Wealth Divide” as part of their Boston Innovates Series. The event featured Thomas Shapiro, author of "Toxic Inequality: How America’s Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future,” and Sherry Riva, Compass’s Founder and Executive Director. We thoroughly enjoyed this timely dialogue.

Rigorous, independent study confirms impact of Compass FSS program on family economic security

Abt Associates released today the results of their rigorous evaluation of Compass Working Capital’s model for the federal Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program. The report points to Compass’s model as a promising approach for helping participants in federal rental assistance programs to increase earnings, build assets and pay down debt.

This study joins a small number of rigorous evaluations of the FSS program that have been conducted to date. It is the first study to examine credit and debt outcomes for FSS program participants, which are two key indicators of household financial security. Abt Associates followed rental assistance recipients in FSS programs offered by Compass in partnership with local housing authorities in Lynn and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After an average of 40 months in the program, participants in the Compass FSS program earned more and received less welfare payments than their matched peers. They also achieved positive credit and debt outcomes that exceeded benchmarks. Specific findings include:

  • Increased Earnings: Participation in the Compass FSS program was associated with an average gain in annual earnings of $6,305
  • Reduced Debt: Compass FSS participants experienced an average decrease in total derogatory debt of $764 and an average decrease in credit card debt of $655
  • Stronger Credit: The average credit score rose by 23 points, among those Compass FSS participants who entered the program with a score. The share of participants with a prime credit score rose by 14 percentage points.
  • Reduced Welfare income: Participation in Compass FSS was associated with a decline of $496 in annual welfare payments

FSS is a 25-year old U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program designed to help recipients of federal rental assistance make progress toward economic security. The evaluation confirms that well-run, voluntary FSS programs can support families with low incomes to increase their earnings and become more financially secure. These results also add further weight to calls to streamline and improve the FSS program - a chief aim of the bipartisan legislation recently introduced by U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

Compass partners with public housing authorities, nonprofit housing organizations, and private housing owners to administer an innovative asset building approach to FSS. Like traditional FSS programs, Compass FSS provides participants with an escrow account that increases in value as participants’ earnings and rent contributions increase. In addition, Compass FSS offers client-driven financial coaching to help participants build their financial capability and savings, pay down high-interest debt, make progress in achieving their employment goals and improve their credit scores and budgeting. Compass now operates this FSS model at ten sites in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The organization is also supporting local partners across the country to integrate core aspects of the Compass FSS model into their local FSS programs, through a national training and technical assistance network.

Click here to learn more about the study at Abt Associates’s website.

Click here to download a one-page summary of the study.

Compass featured in new best practices training on HUD FSS program

Compass is a national leader in the operation of HUD's Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. Over the past two years, we have had the opportunity to play a leading role in a national Community of Practice convened by HUD to identify best practices in FSS program management and service provision.

That body of work recently culminated in the release of several new tools by HUD to assist public housing authorities and private owners who currently operate an FSS program, or are considering starting a program. These tools - including an online training and a guidebook - are now available through HUD's website and feature insights from Compass and our Executive Director, Sherry Riva.

Click to view the complete online training and guidebook

To jump to some of the sections featuring Sherry, click here, here, or here