She and many of her fellow graduates spent five years in the program, a Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission mandate by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help individuals receiving housing assistance achieve financial independence. In Montgomery County, the program has 441 participants at any one time. It began in 1993, and since that year, 777 of the 1,667 enrollees have completed it, including 131 graduates who have bought homes, according to FSS Program Coordinator Nancy Scull.
Of those graduates, 503 no longer receive housing assistance, HOC spokeswoman Susan Yancy said.
According to an HOC yearly report, approximately one-third of FSS graduates began the program unemployed or on welfare, and 15 percent hadn’t finished high school. Eventually, 90% percent took college and/or job training, and 76 percent completed their GED, job skills training, certification or a college degree in the program.
At the time of graduation, graduates of the Family Self-Sufficiency program earned an average of $29,886 annually or $14.36 per hour. They had increased earnings by an average of $17,231, and received an average of more than $10,000 in FSS escrow savings upon graduation — a program designed to help encourage participants to save, according to the HOC report.
The graduates on Oct. 10 had more than doubled their earnings on average, from $14,585 to $34,495. Twenty-five are single parents.
Most of the other graduates were living in public housing or, like Davis-Washington, receiving housing assistance five years ago.
David-Washington was one of a third of the graduates who was out of work. She had worked as a certified nursing assistant, then a secretary at a legal firm. FSS helped her regain her certified nursing assistant’s license, which had expired while she was working at the law firm.
“I feel great right now,” she said at the graduation, beaming. It had been a long journey.
After regaining her CNA license, Davis-Washington started at health-care and insurance provider Kaiser Permanente at $14 an hour. It was stressful — going to school, working and raising her children.
“It was so hard,” she said. “I wish someone had told me not to have kids [so early] because it was so hard to manage a family, go to school and work as a single mom.”
Davis-Washington has been on her own — or mostly on her own — for a long time. Growing up, she spent around four years living in foster care. She has little memory of this time, except “a judge with white hair in the courtroom.”
“I was young. I had to be at least four. I remember not leaving with my parents,” she said.
She has a warm smile and looks younger than her 38 years, seemingly untouched by the demands of raising her five children.