Before Crystal learned about First Story, she lived in Section 8 housing and joined a Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program run by Yakima Housing Authority (YHA). Through FSS, Crystal received support to reach her personal and financial goals. But that’s not all—YHA added money to a special savings account for Crystal for five years.

“There was accountability with YHA. Without First Story and YHA, this dream of becoming a homeowner wouldn't have come true,” said Crystal.

The FSS program is known as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) best-kept secret. It’s a voluntary program open to all families receiving a Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8). The program combines stable and affordable housing with staff support to help participants create and reach five-year goals.

Now here’s where it gets really good: while in the FSS program, a portion of each participant’s rent is matched by YHA and deposited into the escrow savings account until they graduate from the program. Upon graduation, participants receive a check for the total amount that was saved.

Check amounts “range from $100 to $35,000, and we have been seeing a lot in the $20,000 area,” said Becky Mares, the FSS Program Coordinator that worked with Crystal.

After Crystal graduated from FSS, she reached out to Becky for a letter of recommendation to include with her First Story application. Becky was happy to write a letter on Crystal’s behalf, but at first, she thought the program sounded too good to be true.

“I thought she had to be mistaken,” said Becky, about the First Story program.

But a few months later, she and Carlos Reyes, the FSS program supervisor, were at Crystal’s wall raising event. Crystal is grateful for the financial education she received through FSS and the support she got from Carlos and Becky.

“They had me attend homeownership workshops, credit repair classes, and Women Rise Up—a year-long program where I met with other women monthly. We learned about budgeting, saving money, credit building, credit cards and utilization,” said Crystal.

We continue to be inspired by Crystal’s story and are excited to deepen our partnership with Yakima Housing Authority, to help more families transition from Section 8 housing to their very own forever homes.