De Shaun Ealoms always dreamed of owning a home, but she wasn’t sure how she’d get there.
After her son was diagnosed with autism, Ealoms moved to Austin from Dallas to be closer to her parents. To help cover her living expenses, she signed up for Section 8, the commonly used name for the federal Housing Choice Voucher program, which helps low-income families pay rent.
Then one day, an employee with the city’s Housing Authority told her about the Family Self-Sufficiency Program. Ealoms signed up and ultimately saved enough money to put a down payment on a home in Kyle in 2001.
“I thought, well this is a great opportunity,” Ealoms says. “It allowed me to get out of poverty. That’s one of the goals of the program.”
Through the FSS program, residents like Ealoms create a five-year plan, outlining their personal, educational and financial goals. Program coordinators then help participants find full-time work and get off government cash assistance.
The FSS program also helps residents make the leap from rental assistance to homeownership by matching a portion of participants’ rent and depositing it into an escrow account every month.
“That money is accumulated over the five years – or however long they’re on the program, up to five years – and once they graduate and completed all of their goals, then they receive those funds,” explains Becky Summersett, the FSS manager for Austin’s Housing Authority.
Summersett says on average, people save about $8,000 in their escrow accounts. That money can be used for a number of things – paying down debt, buying a car or helping cover a down payment on a home. Participants can also use their escrow savings in conjunction with the Housing Authority’s Down Payment Assistance Program, which provides loans up to $10,000.
“It happens to be that a lot of our Family Self-Sufficiency graduates do end up taking advantage of that down payment assistance that the Housing Authority offers, but it’s certainly not required,” Summersett says.
Since 2004, 104 families have become homeowners through these programs. But as Austin home prices have gone up, many participants are forced to look outside the city limits to find a place they can afford and that commute can be an added cost burden. The latest market data show the region’s median home price has grown to more than $286,000.