Program Areas | Family Economic Supports

United Way of New York City: Evaluation of Financial Independence Today

A counselor with Financial Independence Today

A counselor with Financial Independence Today provides coaching to a New York City Housing Authority resident.

In July 2010, Metis began a mixed-method evaluation of a new program launched by the United Way of New York City, in partnership with the East River Development Alliance (ERDA) and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). This two-year demonstration program, called Financial Independence Today (FIT), aims to increase the financial well-being of residents of five NYCHA housing developments, with an emphasis on assisting residents who are in rental arrears. In the past, Metis has worked closely with the United Way, providing the organization with data that has helped shape the services it provides within New York City public schools.

The central component of FIT involves providing residents with coaching on money management, debt reduction, and asset building. Residents receive help creating budgets, developing financial goals, and putting these plans into action, as well as opening bank accounts and disputing any errors in their credit reports.

Metis's evaluation of FIT includes both qualitative and quantitative elements. During the first year, Metis reviewed data collected by ERDA program staff on the needs and financial barriers of approximately 460 NYCHA clients, as well as on the services that they received and initial outcomes. Metis also interviewed program staff to collect their views on the project's implementation. In Year 2, the evaluation is being expanded to include interviews with a sample of clients (with participation having risen to 740 individuals) and NYCHA leadership and staff.

Metis's first-year data analysis showed that the program had helped clients to resolve a number of individual and family crises that had prevented them from focusing on their financial security. Furthermore, through financial counseling, seminars, and benefits consultations, clients had also begun learning about and engaging in healthy financial practices. Halfway into the second year, positive financial outcomes were becoming evident in the areas of asset building and improvement of financial security. Recognizing that certain tenant policies were being implemented inconsistently across various NYCHA sites, NYCHA and FIT staff have trained NYCHA's housing and administrative staff in the application of these policies. In addition, NYCHA has made some significant policy changes. For example, all staff have been trained in “earned income disregard” (EID) policies and are now automatically enrolling clients who may not be aware that they are eligible for this important benefit. EID policies ensure that when clients' salaries increase, their rent remains static for one year and then increases only incrementally, helping them to start saving money. Together, these changes have the potential to make a significant difference in participants' financial security and to serve as a model for future programming.