The Scale of the Problem
Assets are one of the strongest predictors of a family’s financial well-being and economic mobility. They give families a safety net during times of economic distress and provide the capital needed to invest in opportunities like homeownership or education. However, anti-poverty programs often discourage or penalize families for accumulating savings. Such penalties disproportionately harm Black and Latinx communities.
Families living in subsidized housing are some of the most asset-poor in the US. The federally funded Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program was designed to help these families build assets; however, the program is severely underutilized.
of FSS-eligible families are Black or Latinx
of families do not have the assets needed to cover three months of living expenses
of HUD's 2.2 million assisted-renter households are enrolled in FSS
A Promising Solution
Compass Working Capital aims to fully maximize participation in and graduation from the Family-Self Sufficiency (FSS) program nationwide.
The Family-Self Sufficiency (FSS) program allows families living in subsidized housing who increase their earned income to capture what would have been a corresponding rent increase into a protected escrow savings account, which is fully funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and can be accessed upon graduating the program. This account builds over time, and families can use their savings to achieve the financial goals they set for themselves.
Independent evaluations show Compass participant earnings increase while usage of public assistance decreases after three years of participation. Ultimately, Compass has a goal of helping millions of families move from asset poverty to asset security.
estimated net benefit per participant
average increase in annual household earnings for Compass FSS program participants
average decrease in annual household public assistance for Compass FSS program participants
Blue Meridian's Investment
Our investment supports the first five years of Compass Working Capital’s seven-year scaling plan, which aims to move tens of thousands of eligible families into asset-secure households by expanding FSS enrollment within the current system; advocating for and piloting a high-potential automatic enrollment model for eligible families; and refining training and technical assistance as an alternative pathway to scale.
$30M invested over 5 years
Support a total of 15,100 families with low incomes
Unlock an estimated $68M in escrow savings and $83M in earnings, laying the groundwork for broader access to FSS
Addressed Initial Barriers to Scaling
In 2019, The Studio @ Blue Meridian made a two-year investment in Compass in support of identifying a pathway to scaling FSS within large housing providers. During that time, Compass progressed against key objectives: partnering with two large public housing authorities to accelerate program enrollment; piloting remote service delivery to increase the scalability and sustainability of its coaching model; and demonstrating durable earnings gains and welfare reductions. Compass’s tremendous progress in The Studio has set them up for success in their next phase of scaling.
Demonstrated History of Success
Partnering with housing providers and serving largely Black and/or Latinx mothers, Compass has demonstrated success in increasing participation, moving enrollment up to 14% of FSS-eligible households versus 3% nationally, and producing much higher graduation rates of 75% versus 25% nationally. Importantly, Compass helps participants become asset secure: in addition to average savings of $8,100 (compared to $5,700 that a family of three would need to live at the federal poverty line for three months), Compass graduates also have $10,000 higher annual earnings.
A Vision to Transform FSS Delivery Nationally
An exciting and ambitious element of Compass’ scaling plan involves piloting an “opt-out” version of the FSS model. Compass’s “opt-out” approach would automatically enroll eligible families in the program without action from the family or the housing provider, establishing it as a basic component of a family’s housing benefit. If implemented, an opt-out model could open the door for an exponential increase in FSS enrollment nationwide and for other innovations to the model that could meaningfully decrease program costs.
About Compass Working Capital
Compass Working Capital partners with families with low incomes to build assets as a pathway out of poverty, focusing primarily on families led by Black and Latinx women.
Compass operates client-centered savings and financial coaching programs, delivers training and technical assistance to other practitioners, and shapes policy solutions that dismantle barriers to asset building. Compass’s flagship program supports families living in federally subsidized housing by partnering with affordable housing providers to expand the scope and impact of an existing federal housing initiative – the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program.
Chief Executive Officer
Markita Morris-Louis is CEO of Compass Working Capital. Prior to becoming CEO, Morris-Louis was Compass’ founding Chief Strategy Officer, leading the organization’s national strategy for scale and impact. She has served on numerous community-based boards and currently serves on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Advisory Board and the Board of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. She graduated from Brown University and New York University School of Law and grew up in subsidized housing.
Every family should have the chance…
A Compass Working Capital participant shares her story of how Compass helped her get out of Section 8 housing and into homeownership.