The public housing authorities in Charleston and North Charleston will be getting a small piece of nearly $57 million in federal grants awarded this week to help some clients make the transition to self-sufficiency.

The clients are people who have agreed to leave the Housing Choice Voucher program, commonly known as Section 8, within five years. In exchange, the clients get a financial incentive to succeed, and a coordinator to help them achieve their goals.

In the voucher program, people with low incomes find privately-owned rental housing, and the federally-funded vouchers typically cover most of the rent and utilities. The clients contribute a third of their income toward rent and utilities.

In the city of Charleston there are roughly 1,500 families receiving vouchers, and about 750 more on a waiting list for the program. The number participating in the self-sufficiency program, who have agreed to leave the voucher program within a set period of time, stands at 55.

For those who agree to leave the voucher program, the financial incentive is that when their incomes rise, instead of one third of their income gains going toward higher rent, that amount is set aside in a savings account. When those clients leave the voucher program, they get the accumulated savings.

So, participating in what's called the Family Self Sufficiency program makes financial sense for clients with rising incomes. At both housing authorities, enrollment numbers represent a small portion of voucher clients.

Don Cameron, director of the Charleston Housing Authority, said participants in the self-sufficiency program set out goals to meet before their time on the voucher program runs out, such as getting a better job or completing a job training or degree program.

"Hopefully, when you leave the program you've obtained what you set out to do, or something close," he said. "There's a trained counselor they can call to work through situations they might have."

Cameron said 11 families that went through the program are now homeowners.

"We place real value in the program," he said.

The idea is that the government benefits by moving people off the subsidized program, and the clients are more likely to succeed with help and some savings to get them started.

The federal grant funds announced this week are essentially renewals of annual grants that pay for the coordinators at the Charleston and North Charleston housing authorities. Those authorities will receive $58,990 and $46,701, respectively, "to connect (clients) to the supportive services that meet their individual needs and to become gainfully employed" according to The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

North Charleston Housing Authority Executive Director Gary Scott said about 70 families participate in the self-sufficiency program there.

"We have some people who have gotten their degrees through the program, and at the end were able to go out and buy homes, or purchase cars," he said. "We help them get directed, and achieve these goals."

"A lot of these people don't (otherwise) have anyone to help them," Scott said.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552