While every future Habitat homeowner receives financial training during the homeownership classes before they purchase their homes, we are now providing financial guidance and training for current and future Habitat partner families through partnership with United Way and its Financial Stability Innovation Fund (FSIF). This new grant program allows local partner organizations like B/CS Habitat and Project Unity to receive training for creating a family budget, managing and building credit and planning for the future. In turn, we apply what we have learned and use the resources provided by this program to teach useful, real-world financial skills to Habitat homeowners, helping them improve their financial futures.
In January, four of our staff members attended an interactive, day-long training at United Way of the Brazos Valley, where we were introduced to financial stability curriculum, financial training techniques and best practices–tools to help Habitat’s partner families reach their financial goals. This training was further built upon in February, when we met with other local non-profits to discuss how these programs were being implemented and to exchange ideas about how to create these programs in own own missions. Throughout the rest of 2016, staff will attend monthly trainings and seminars that will continue to hone our financial and teaching skills to better train the populations we currently serve in other critical ways.
The beauty of this program (FSIF) is that it fills a need that we have been attempting to tackle for some time, but without putting an extra burden on the partner families. We already have a relationship with most of this target population, having regular meetings with homeowners about issues they might have with their homes, problems they are having with finances, etc. FSIF gives us a structured way to discuss finances and financial goals with homeowners and track their progress in meeting these goals, and it allows United Way to better reach this target population using organizations like Habitat, who are already on the ground working with these people in other areas.
When FSIF-trained staff meet with a homeowner for the first time, we start by giving them a pre-test that determines the individual’s confidence on finances and budgeting, and detects any areas that they may want or need to improve. We then discuss the results of the test with the homeowner and help them choose from a list of FSIF-provided courses to complete together over the course of several months. Trainings include advice on how to better pay off their mortgage, learn to improve and use credit to their advantage, opening and using savings accounts, creating a budget and a “rainy day fund,” and even saving for their children’s education. The trainings combine printouts and worksheets from handsonbanking.com and video lectures with student-led discussions and problem solving using homeowners’ actual financial dilemmas.
So far this year, the response to this new program has been very positive. Habitat homeowners have not only signed up for one-on-one counseling sessions, but have also chosen to continue returning for additional follow-up sessions. After several months of these meetings, the homeowners will be tested to see the progress made in this vital area of their lives. Through this important partnership with United Way and FSIF, we look forward to better serving homeowners long after they have moved into their new homes.