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Abt’s Evaluations of Compass Working Capital’s Innovative Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program


  • Compass Working Capital’s innovative approach to HUD’s FSS program relies on participant-driven financial coaching
  • Abt has conducted a series of independent evaluations to better understand the impacts of Compass’ FSS model.
  • Abt found the program helps participants increase earnings and improve credit in a cost-effective manner.
The Challenge

Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program designed to help housing assistance recipients increase their earnings and build savings to make progress toward economic security. The standard FSS program combines stable affordable rental housing with case management, service coordination, and/or coaching, and an escrow savings account that increases in value as participants’ earnings and rent contributions increase.

The Compass Working Capital FSS model adds innovative features, including:

  • A strong focus on helping clients build financial capability, pay down high-interest debt, build savings, and improve their budgeting and credit scores, complementing the asset-building that occurs through the FSS escrow accounts.
  • A coaching model that emphasizes participant-driven goal setting.
  • A public-private partnership model, supported by philanthropy in addition to funds from partner agencies and HUD.
The Approach

Using a range of quantitative and qualitative methods, Abt conducted a series of evaluations to assess the impacts of Compass FSS and to help inform the program’s approach. Abt’s quasi-experimental evaluations have found the program leads to growth in annual earned income and reductions in public benefits receipt. We also conducted two studies and found improvement in credit and debt outcomes relative to benchmarks. Two cost-benefit analyses found the program to be cost-effective.

The Results

Abt has conducted a series of evaluations of Compass FSS programs:

Impact Estimates and Cost Benefit Studies

  • Quasi-experimental impact and cost-benefit analyses of Compass FSS in three Massachusetts public housing agencies (2021). We found Compass FSS to be associated with strong earnings growth and reduction in the receipt of public benefits, with a positive cost-benefit profile. Read the reports here.
  • Early quasi-experimental study of Compass FSS in Preservation of Affordable Housing-owned multifamily properties (2021). This early study found results that are suggestive of a positive impact on earnings growth and public benefits receipt, but the sample was too small to provide definitive results. This is the first study of an FSS program in multifamily housing. Read the reports here.
  • Initial quasi-experimental and outcome studies of Compass FSS in two Massachusetts housing authorities (2017). This study showed positive early impacts on household earnings and the receipt of benefits, as well participant credit score and debt profiles. An early cost-benefit analysis showed the program’s strong net positive monetary impacts across participant, program provider, and government perspectives. Read the report here.

Credit and Debt Evaluations

  • Benchmarked Outcome Evaluation of Credit and Debt Changes for Compass FSS Participants. This study demonstrated significant increases in FICO® Scores for Compass FSS participants. The study also showed strong relative reductions in debt, compared to a benchmark group used for comparison (both groups saw an increase in debt, but Compass participants’ debt grew by less than the comparison group). Read the report here.

Qualitative Studies

  • Abt conducted a series of qualitative studies of the experiences of Compass FSS participants and eligible households that have not enrolled in the program. These studies aim to help Compass and the field of FSS providers better understand: (a) participant experiences a few years after successfully graduating from the Compass FSS program, (b) the reasons why those who don’t graduate leave the FSS program prematurely, and (c) the reasons why households do not enroll in Compass FSS and what may help to engage them. Read the reports here.

Rent-to-Save Pilot

  • The Rent-to-Save opt-out pilot that Compass administered in partnership with Cambridge Housing Authority tested the innovative idea of offering asset accounts to all residents in two public housing developments. The pilot generated findings on how such a program might operate and identified strong participant satisfaction. Read the reports here.

Policy Briefs

Abt has explored the policy implications of its research on Compass’ FSS program model in several policy briefs. Read the briefs here.