The Bridge to Family Self-Sufficiency (BridgeFSS) Demonstration
Housing subsidies, which help low-income families pay their rent and utilities in public housing developments or in the private rental market, are a vital component of the national social safety net. For many very low-income families, they stand directly between decent, stable housing and homelessness. They are also sometimes viewed as a “work support,” with the expectation that stable housing makes it easier to find a job and remain employed. Yet, several rigorous studies have found that housing subsidies by themselves (i.e., in the absence of a work-focused intervention) may not improve average employment rates and earnings for low-income adults, and may even worsen them somewhat under some conditions. More encouragingly, a number of other studies show that housing subsidies can be used effectively as a “platform” for employment, in that certain work-focused interventions can improve labor market outcomes for individuals already receiving housing subsidies. Still, such evidence is limited, and little proof exists of any interventions producing “transformative” effects – that is, helping large proportions and a diverse mix of participating tenants achieve earnings gains that are large enough to help them exit the housing subsidy system and other government transfer programs.
This paper describes an innovative self-sufficiency program that aims to achieve this ambitious goal. Called the Bridge to Family Self-Sufficiency (Bridge FSS), the program will be tested as part of a new research demonstration project intended to determine whether low-income families receiving government housing subsidies can, with the right supports, make large economic strides, reduce their reliance on a range of government transfer benefits, and improve their overall financial security and well-being. The demonstration is a joint initiative of the Crittenton Women’s Union (CWU), a service provider based in Boston, Massachusetts, and MDRC, a New York City-based not-for-profit social policy and education research organization.