Despite the challenges of the pandemic, FSS participants have been making progress toward their professional and financial goals
On Aug. 23, Bridgeview Resource Center held a small ceremony where graduates of the Family Self-Sufficiency Program received big checks. The checks represent money earned by participating in the program aimed at building independence and financial literacy.
It was the first time in years Bridgeview held an in-person graduation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, FSS participants have been making progress toward their professional and financial goals.
Tatyana Fernandez Kolomiyets’ goals were to improve her credit score, get an associate’s degree in technology, earn enough money to support her family without assistance and become a homeowner.
“It was definitely not an easy road to that success, but it was possible when you have the support,” she said. “I know my worth and know that I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to no matter the obstacles as long as I try my best.”
The FSS program is open to households using Housing Choice Vouchers (which reduce rent costs for those who cannot afford market-rate rents). An interest-bearing escrow account is established in their name and grows through earned income and accomplishing milestones throughout the program. Upon completion, graduates can use their checks however they see fit; typically it goes toward schooling costs, debt reduction, purchasing a vehicle or even putting a down payment on a home. One recent grad earned $40,000 in escrow.
All 19 of the 2021 and 2022 graduates are employed full time. They no longer use rental subsidies or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a government program providing cash assistance to low-income families. Twelve graduates head single-parent households.
“With this program I was able — because I had low rent — to go to school full time,” graduate Laurie Brown said. “I don’t think that I would be successful today without the program.”
Brown got an accounting job, learned how to be financially stable and in July purchased a home.
Since 2017, 18 graduates have purchased homes. Their escrow money is one piece of that financial achievement; FSS staff connect them with down payment assistance and first time homebuyer programs.
About 100 households participate in FSS each year. The current average annual income is about $30,000. Seventy percent of those working their way through the program are working at least part time.
“This unique program truly is an example of commitment, support and partnership between participants and community partners who are invested not only in their outcomes but their futures,” said Sean Moore, Bridgeview board member.
Bridgeview Executive Director Angie Sytsma said FSS is a prime example of how the nonprofit breaks the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Many graduates are the first in their families to be homeowners or complete higher education.
“That’s what Bridgeview is all about,” Sytsma said.
Program participation is five years, but people can graduate early. One participant completed the program in five months. It’s highly individualized and depends upon set goals.
Although the FSS program is restricted to those receiving subsidized rent in Clark County, anyone in the community can use the services and resources at Bridgeview Resource Center.
Information provided by Vancouver Housing Authority.
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