Boosting Financial Capability and Self Sufficiency for Very Low-Income Residents in AHC’s Affordable Housing Communities: Dollars & Sense

AHC provides onsite Resident Services in its affordable housing communities to empower residents to live their best lives.

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  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

Maryland: Baltimore (21215), Silver Spring (20910) Virginia: Arlington (22201, 22204, 22205, 22206)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Civic Engagement
  • Development & Prosperity
  • Health & Fitness

Date Started


Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)


  • $500k - $1m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Twitter @AHCInc Facebook AHC Affordable Housing

Twitter URL

Facebook URL

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

AHC is a nonprofit developer of affordable housing. Not long after acquiring our Baltimore properties, we realized that 90% of our residents earned less than $20,000 a year. What’s more, they were paying their rent using money orders through usury institutions that charged high fees and preyed on them in myriad ways. Few used bank accounts or knew about budgeting and saving. What started as an eviction prevention program quickly led to offering financial capability and money management. We were trying to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and address just one example of the many ways it is expensive to be poor. Our goal is to empower residents to set their own goals and connect them with tools to become more stable.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

We seek to break down the structural barriers that persist for minorities in inner-city Baltimore. 98% of our residents are African American. All are extremely low- or very-low income. Through financial coaching, access to job readiness, women’s empowerment programming, and community engagement, we are actively working to counteract inter-generational imbalance, a lack of access to information and opportunity, and cyclical poverty.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

AHC improves residents’ lives by providing social, financial, community empowerment and health programs onsite right where residents live. We use high-quality, affordable housing as a platform to address barriers. Our financial capability program, Dollars and Sense, uses certified financial coaching by full-time onsite staff to share information about mainstream banking, saving money and building credit. Innovative practices include the following: 1. Pre-paid debit cards for those who are unable or unwilling to open a checking or savings account. Recipients use the card to make purchases online or via their phone. 2. Rent Café, where residents pay rent online. This gives them a reason to establish a checking account and avoid money orders. 3. Rent Reporting, which reports on-time rent payments to the credit bureau and helps residents build credit. 4. “Ready, Set, Bank,” a pilot with Capital One whereby seniors use tablets purchased by AHC to access online banking. 5. The use of financial incentives, such as matched savings plans. Through 1:1 financial coaching and job readiness training, we help residents prosper based on their individual needs.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

Shakiya, a single mom (pictured), started working one-on-one with an AHC-GB financial coach in 2012, establishing checking and savings accounts. Today, she continues to work with her financial coach to repair and build her credit, meeting at least monthly. She also worked with an AHC job coach to advocate for an advancement at work. This allowed her to consolidate two part-time jobs into one full-time job with more pay, moving from dispatcher to driver and allowing her to have more time with her daughter. Through our Just for You Savings program, she has saved enough to take her daughter to Disney World. As people progress, they continue to rely on AHC’s staff for continued support. AHC-GB’s work has led to greater financial stability in the Park Heights community at large through better housing, better access to services, and better financial outcomes.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

AHC is working in Park Heights, Baltimore, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. 98% of our residents are African American and 90% report income of less than $20,000/year. One property is nearly all seniors with a mistrust of the financial mainstream, while another property is 85% single mothers with children of all ages. Many are unemployed and rely solely on public benefits. We strive to empower these residents to be the drivers of their own financial wellbeing, resilience and freedom.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • ability
  • geography
  • work status
  • race/ethnicity
  • age - elder
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Other developers of affordable housing include Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Episcopal Housing Corp, Saint Ambrose, and GEDCO. Organizations for Financial Capability include CASH Campaign, Guidewell Financial Services, and Community Action Agencies. AHC differs by offering both affordable housing and financial capability services, all onsite where clients live to build trust and sustainability. In addition to using housing as a foundation, we use innovative new technologies (Question 3) to help these residents join not only the mainstream, but the cutting edge of new technology in FC.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Resident Services has offered onsite programs to low-income residents at our Baltimore properties for 10 years. We started with eviction prevention in 2009 and expanded later to include financial capability and job readiness. We have worked with about 100 residents each year on financial coaching since 2012. We help residents develop spending plans, set up accounts with mainstream institutions, use technology and coaching to improve credit scores and ratings, and get and maintain jobs. We also measure residents’ self-reported feelings of financial security, which have increased significantly since we started. We continue to make significant investments in these communities through better housing and onsite Resident Services. These programs have become so strong that we have begun to replicate them first at AHC’s properties in VA, then nationally, through NeighborWorks America.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

We are now working to replicate our Financial Capability program in Arlington, VA, then nationwide. A consultant is helping evaluate our programs and developing a tool kit for other organizations to scale. Using emerging products and technology will help with scaling. AHC engages residents in developing and implementing our work through surveys, feedback, and intentional development of resident leaders. Using established and respected networks such as NeighborWorks America, the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers (HAND) and Enterprise will also help with scaling.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Trainings, Consultation

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

AHC’s Resident Services programming is funded by a diverse combination of property fees (41%), grants (31%) and individual (14%) and corporate (12%) contributions. This model blends funding streams for maximum sustainability, with property fees from AHC’s own properties always providing the largest portion of funding.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

AHC has four full-time onsite Resident Services (RS) Managers in Baltimore, plus an Assistant Director of RS. All have been trained as Financial Coaches and two have received Financial Capability Certification through NeighborWorks America. A job coach works part-time. In Arlington, a FT Assistant Director of RS and three FT RS Managers are in the process of becoming certified financial coaches and rotate time among 10 properties. Future plans call for the addition of a job coach.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French)
  • Hispanic, Latino/a, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)
  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian, etc)
  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani)
  • Middle Eastern or North African (for example: Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Syrian, Moroccan, Algerian)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • Communities of color
  • Disability community
  • Low-income community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Program Design Clarity

Main activities include one-on-one financial and job readiness coaching with trained coaches. Also, we use technology (prepaid debit cards; Ready Set, Bank; Rent Café) as described in Q3. Services are offered onsite at our affordable housing communities in Baltimore. Onsite FT staff meet with residents at least once a month. AHC-GB delivers services and engages community partners to complement and provide a full continuum of financial care.

Approach to financial wellbeing: does your project focus on creating financial wellbeing through innovating on any of the following?

  • credit
  • currency
  • education / literacy
  • payment
  • saving

Innovation type: Please select which of the following types of innovation best characterize your work

  • Product innovation (Introduction of a good or service or improvements made to existing products)
  • Process innovation (execution of a new or considerably improved production or delivery method)

Partnerships in detail: tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

Partners include service, product and referral partners. Service partners include CASH Campaign, offering VITA sites for free tax prep and job training partners working with our on-site job coach to expand opportunities for residents’ employment. Product partners include Xpress Paycard, which is a low-fee, instant issue pre-paid card providing a non-usury bank option for clients. It also administers incentives. Referral partners such as community associations refer clients.

If you won the Unlocking ₵hange Challenge, how would you invest the prize money of $50,000?

We would invest the prize money by 1) adding another job coach ($7,800), 2) adding incentives for enrolling in technology like Rent Café and reaching milestones ($7,500) 4) increasing the use of pre-paid debit cards ($1,500), and 3) helping scale the program in Arlington ($33,200).

Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions has the project received?

Dollars and Sense has received significant recognition from NeighborWorks America (NWA) as a model program. NWA is currently helping us study and replicate Dollars and Sense at our properties in Arlington, and then nationwide, through the creation of a tool kit that can be adapted and used in other settings with different racial and ethnic contexts.

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 33.3%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 66.7%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 33.3%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 50%

Clarity of Writing - 50%

Idea Originality - 50%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 50%

Impact Potential - 100%

Financial Sustainability - 50%

Team - 50%

Partnerships - 100%

Potential to scale - 100%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 50%

Clarity of Model - 100%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 50%

Team - 50%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 50%


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Glad to read this post!

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