WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today awarded $75 million to help public housing and Housing Choice Voucher residents across the country connect with local services to improve their education and employment and to put them on a path to self-sufficiency.

Funded through HUD's Family Self-Sufficiency Program (FSS), these grants allow public housing agencies (PHAs) to work with social service agencies, community colleges, businesses, and other local partners to help public housing residents and individuals participating in HUD's Housing Choice Voucher Program to increase their education or gain marketable skills that will enable them to obtain employment and advance in their current work. In 2014, Congress combined funding for the Public Housing FSS (PH FSS) and Housing Choice Voucher FSS (HCV FSS) programs into one program serving both populations.

As HUD approaches its 50th anniversary next year, HUD Secretary Julián Castro is focused on advancing policies that create opportunities for all Americans, including helping families and individuals secure quality housing by connecting housing efforts to education and job opportunities.

"HUD connects folks to opportunity," said Castro. "These grants will link people to the computer access, financial literacy, job training, childcare and other tools they need to compete and succeed in the workplace. Every American deserves access to the skills and resources necessary to become self-sufficient."

HUD's FSS Program helps local public housing authorities to hire service coordinators who work directly with residents to connect them with programs and services that already exist in the local community. These Service Coordinators also build relationships with the network of local service providers so as to more effectively serve the residents. The program encourages innovative strategies that link public housing and Housing Choice Voucher assistance with other resources to enable participating families to find jobs, increase earned income, reduce or eliminate the need for rental and/or welfare assistance, and make progress toward achieving economic independence and housing self-sufficiency.

Participants in the program sign a five-year contract that requires the head of the household to obtain employment and that no member of the FSS family is receiving cash welfare assistance at the end of the five-year term. Families in the FSS program have an interest-bearing escrow account established for them. The amount credited to the family's escrow account is based on increases in the family's earned income during the term of the FSS contract. If the family successfully completes its FSS contract, the family receives the escrow funds that it can use for any purpose, including improving credit scores, paying educational expenses, or a down-payment on a home.

The Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) Program is a long-standing resource for increasing economic security and self-sufficiency among participants. HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research issued Evaluation of FSS Program: Prospective Study in 2011 that evaluated the effectiveness of the FSS Program. Conducted from 2005 to 2009, the study showed that financial benefits are substantial for participants who remain in and complete the program. An earlier study found that individuals who participated in the FSS program fared better financially than those who did not enroll in the program. HUD is currently conducting a longitudinal study on the program, with the first set of results expected in 2018.

WASHINGTON - U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro joined U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to announce a competition to designate a new round of Promise Zones. These Promise Zones are part of the President's plan to create a new pathway to the middle class by partnering with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, improve educational opportunities, and reduce violent crime.

Urban, rural, and tribal communities nationwide will be invited to put forward a plan to partner with local business and community leaders to make evidence-based investments that reward hard work and expand opportunity. In exchange, these designees will receive priority access to federal investments that further their strategic plans, federal staff on the ground to help them implement their goals, and five full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members to recruit and manage volunteers and strengthen the capacity of the Promise Zone initiatives.

"As a former mayor of an urban Promise Zone community, I have a unique appreciation for the talent, passion and the vision that local leaders offer when working to turn their communities around," said HUD Secretary Julián Castro. "Promise Zones are about giving folks who have been underserved for far too long the opportunity to build stronger neighborhoods and more prosperous lives. At HUD, we're honored to give other communities the opportunity to transform their futures so this work can continue across the country."

"The Promise Zones initiative allows us to work directly with local leaders and organizations to meet a community's specific needs," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "In the current Promise Zones, especially in rural and tribal areas, we are seeing how effective it can be when we work in a coordinated way to address economic and social challenges. We've seen economic recovery strategies like this create jobs and opportunity through USDA's community-based StrikeForce Initiative and Promise Zones build on this success."

"As a former mayor, I know the difference that can be made when federal agencies work together to cut through red tape and deliver strategic solutions that address a community's needs," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "The Department of Transportation is proud to work alongside other agencies to make sure communities not only offer good homes, thriving businesses and a clean environment, but an efficient transportation system so its people can enjoy them all, too."

Education Secretary Arne Duncan added, "At the heart of every strong community is a great school, but schools can't do it alone - it takes the whole community to help improve outcomes for students in school and in life. Promise Zones create real pathways to success for families in our most impoverished communities across the country by attracting private investment, increasing affordable housing, improving educational opportunities and assisting local leaders in cutting through red tape. I am excited to join our interagency partners in announcing this new opportunity for communities to become a Promise Zone."

Each Promise Zone selected will have demonstrated that local leaders, business leaders, state, tribal and local officials; faith-based and non-profit organizations; children and parents are collaborating effectively to ensure that hard work leads to a decent living for every American, in every community.

In 2009, after a generation of sometimes counterproductive and often contradictory federal engagement that was creating obstacles to greater shared prosperity, local communities across the country demanded a more effective and responsive federal government partner to create new pathways to the middle class. To meet this demand, the Obama Administration adopted a variety of unprecedented place-based efforts to promote economic opportunity and accelerate economic growth by explicitly connecting key federal programs that support such growth, such as education, housing, economic development, and infrastructure, with locally-devised strategies for broadly shared regional growth.

In January of this year, President Obama announced the first five Promise Zones: San Antonio, TX, Los Angeles, CA, Philadelphia, PA, Southeastern Kentucky Highlands and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. The work being done in these communities is already helping to move the needle in key areas. For example, graduation rates have reached 90 percent in the San Antonio Promise Zone; 2,000 kids in Los Angeles were able to find a summer job through a youth employment initiative; 900 unemployed people in Southeastern Kentucky have been connected to a job; and over 700 households and 50 businesses in remote southeast Oklahoma will soon have access to clean, safe drinking water for the first time. Today's announcement of a new Promise Zone competition will help bring similar success to high-poverty communities across the country.

Any community meeting the qualifying criteria can apply for a designation, regardless of whether it has a previous federal grant. HUD and USDA will designate at least 8 Promise Zones across urban, rural and tribal communities. The deadline for submitting Promise Zone applications is November 21, 2014.

HUD in close collaboration with USDA will convene three distinct webcasts for urban, rural, and tribal to discuss the second round of the Promise Zone Initiative with interested communities.