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Financial Education for Supportive Housing and Transitional Housing Programs

financial education for homebuyersThe issue:

How to build trust with supportive housing and transitional housing clients and help them better understand their spending habits; how to make positive behavior changes. Make financial education classes more engaging and relevant – especially because they aren’t mandatory for supportive and transitional housing clients.


Donna Stallings, Case Manager and VIDA Coordinator at Virginia Supportive Housing.


Virginia Supportive Housing is a non-profit housing agency. It provides permanent supportive housing to homeless single adults (SRO) and families, including those graduating from homeless shelters and transitional housing. VSH provides integrated support services, notably a financial education curriculum for homebuyers and homelessness transition. VSH also teaches financial literacy workshops and provides financial counseling. Funding has come from private foundations, Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, HUD, and SAMSHA among others.
Who: Virginia Supportive Housing operates in and around the cities of Richmond, Petersburg, Charlottesville, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, and Norfolk. The non-profit focuses on homeless individuals and families. Clients have low-to-moderate income (LMI); many have incomes below 30 percent of median income. Other challenges include substance abuse, mental illness, and physical disabilities.

  • Supportive housing and transitional housing clients are offered a series of financial education classes. VSH uses its financial literacy curriculum, which includes Money Habitudes. Classes are optional for VSH residents. Although students get a supermarket gift card for attending all the classes, the financial literacy classes must still be enjoyable and appeal to them.
  • The financial literacy curriculum is a series of four 2-hour classes. The financial classes are (1) Core Values and Beliefs About Money, featuring Money Habitudes (2) Budgeting and Money Management (3) Understanding Credit, Reading Credit Scores and Credit Reports; Credit Repair (4) Banking and Saving, including opening a bank account for those who are unbanked.
  • VSH also offers standalone financial literacy workshops and financial counseling for individuals and couples. VSH teaches classes for a women’s shelter, a Salvation Army men’s shelter, a homelessness transitional shelter for veterans, and foster kids.
  • Typical classes are 10-20 students.
  • The entire Core Beliefs class is based on the Money Habitudes exercise. After an introduction, each student sorts a deck of cards. Because of low literacy levels, Stallings allows 30-45 minutes for students to do the solitaire sorting process. She sometimes reads cards to those who can’t read.
  • About an hour of the class is devoted to the money personality self-interpretation and group discussion. “There’s always somebody who will volunteer and share. And they’ll say, ‘This was me! And I didn’t even realize it!'” says Stallings.


  • It’s fun and active – versus boring, static lectures or PowerPoint presentations. “Even for me, personally, if I take a class and all the teacher does is stand up and lecture, they’re going to lose me in about 15 minutes. Classroom environments need to be interactive and engaging. Just sitting there is difficult,” says Stallings.
  • The activity makes for a better environment for a teacher. “If I’m coming to them, just off the street, talking about budgeting, they’re like, ‘Who is this woman and why should I talk to her?’ Money Habitudes is a different approach that’s fun and meaningful,” says Stallings.
  • It’s engaging but also empowering. “Money Habitudes is a much friendlier, non-judgmental way for people to get at their core issues. That’s why it’s more successful than what we did before having the Money Habitudes cards. Now they’re sorting the cards themselves; they’re saying this about themselves. It’s not me sitting there and pointing a finger saying, ‘You do this! And you do this! You need to do this! And you need to do this!’ It’s not like that. It’s ‘this is just how you are and here are some things you can do if you want to be more successful in managing your money.’ It’s the cards that are telling them, based on how they responded to the statements,” says Stallings.
  • It builds trust. “The Money Habitudes exercise doesn’t just get the students to trust me, but it does something with the camaraderie in the room because everybody’s wall comes down. You’d be surprised how much they tell about themselves. And I don’t encourage them; this is what they do on their own. It’s because they’ve become comfortable and relaxed on their own. After all, the game is done in a lighthearted, fun way.”
  • It helps people like the idea of budgeting. “When you do the cards, it lets people see what their money personality is and why they’ve done things the way that they have. And they realize that the way they’ve been managing their money hasn’t been working for them. So they’re then open and excited to see how a budget can help them do better. They come into the second session on budgeting with a different attitude versus if we had started with that class. Because they’ve found out what their personality type is, now they want to see how they can fit that into a budget to make their financial picture better,” says Stallings.


  • 90 percent of VSH’s residents do not return to homelessness.
  • VSH claims that the local community bears $9,500 to $13,500 per person to provide temporary housing; the organization provides housing for approximately $4,500, saving the public up to $9,000 per individual.

Observations and Comments:

  • “Money Habitudes is not punitive, whereas some people see budgets as punitive, negative, and restrictive, like, ‘This is going to keep me from doing what I want to do!’ So they don’t want to do it. But the cards give you a different way to present financial challenges,” says Stallings.
  • “By doing the cards, it hits at the issues, but it does it in a fun way so now they don’t dread this person coming and talking to them about money because, first, ‘she made it fun’ and, second, ‘she helped me deal with some stuff,’ and third, ‘now I can trust her.’ The trust lead-in is so important. If you just walk into a group that doesn’t know you and trust you and try to talk about money and budgeting, you’ll get a stonewall.”
  • “If people know why they do what they do, it makes it easier to change – or to at least not get frustrated when certain things keep happening over and over again because they know why they’re doing it.”