Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

From Homelessness to Hope to Housing

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 @ 09:45 AM
Moriya SmithMoriya Smith with Labouré College President Maureen Smith at her graduation last May. Moriya is now studying for her bachelor's degree. 

Almost 20 years ago, when Moriya Smith was only a teenager, she became homeless, fending not only for herself, but her firstborn son Reggie. “I had to go into a shelter,” she said. “I didn’t have a place to stay. It was horrible, probably the worst experience of my life.”

Today, the pain of that experience has been washed away by the success she has achieved as a single mother – she has two other children Marissa and Maranda – who works full-time as a registered nurse. She is currently studying to earn her bachelor’s degree, and is saving money through HAC’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program to one day become a homeowner on Cape Cod.

Originally from Boston, Smith moved to Brewster nearly two years ago, initially working with HAC to secure a rental. “You helped me with my first and last month’s rent which was a big burden lifted from me,” Smith said. “And then my oldest daughter needed a bed so [HAC] gave me a mattress and box spring… They [HAC] were like my little angels. They really helped me. I was still in school and had not yet finished so I wasn’t working and money was tight, very tight.”

As Smith describes it, money was so tight that while she was working towards her associate’s degree and commuting to Labouré College from Cape Cod to Milton, she sometimes didn’t know if she could pay for the gas to make the trip.

Despite these obstacles, Smith has been able to flourish thanks to those around her who have offered their support.

One of those is HAC’s FSS Coordinator Jan Nelson, who has worked with Smith since she entered the program in September 2016. “I have never met anyone like her who is not only supportive, but caring and who I feel is 100 percent in my corner for everything,” Smith said.

Nelson has provided that support and care through FSS which provides incentives for Section 8 voucher holders to increase their earnings. As one’s income increases, their rent increases, and the difference between the original rent and the increased rent is placed into an escrow account which FSS clients can access once they graduate.

Before Smith graduated from Labouré last May, Nelson recommended her for the One Family Scholarship, given to low-income single parents to further their education. Smith was selected for the scholarship which she is using as she pursues her bachelor’s from Labouré in the hopes of becoming a family nurse practitioner.

In the fall, Smith landed a job as a nurse in a long-term care facility on the Cape, a position that has added financial stability to her life.

When she eventually graduates from FSS, Smith plans on using the money to become a homeowner, something she never could have envisioned two decades ago when she was homeless. “I feel like those things, those unfortunate events in my life have made me strong and made me who I am today,” she said.

Give Hope to a HAC Client

Tags: Section 8, Jan Nelson, Affordable Housing on Cape Cod, Family Self Sufficiency, homelessness, One Family Scholarship, FSS, hope, affordable housing, Moriya Smith, Brewster

FSS Graduation Result of Hard Work

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Tue, Sep 26, 2017 @ 03:19 PM
Stacey Whittemore FSS Photo-1.jpgHAC FSS Coordinator Jan Nelson (left) with Stacey Whittemore, who recently graduated from the program and became a homeowner on Cape Cod. 

When some clients graduate from the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, it can be a large celebration with a number of HAC staff in attendance. Others, like Cotuit’s Stacey Whittemore, opt for something more low key.

That did not make the moment any less meaningful when Whittemore and her son Connor received a $9,061.84 check at the end of July from Jan Nelson, who manages the FSS program for HAC.

With tears in her eyes, an emotional Whittemore spoke about the impact that FSS has had on her since she first entered it a little more than a year and a half ago. “You helped me out tremendously,” Whittemore told Nelson.

With the support of Nelson, FSS clients find ways to increase their income so they can move off of public assistance. As one’s income increases, their rent increases. The difference between the new monthly rent and the old rent is placed into an escrow savings account that clients can access, and use as they deem fit, upon completion of FSS.

Whittemore was able to accumulate more than $4,000; she received another $5,000 in federal funds because she was giving up her Section 8 voucher and becoming a homeowner, moving from her Mashpee home into what she called, “my forever home” in Cotuit.

Nelson called Whittemore, who has two jobs, including a full-time one as an overnight dispatcher for a towing company, “a hard worker” something that was witnessed when she boosted her credit score from roughly 500 to over 700 during her time in the FSS program.

While she was looking forward to decorating her new home for Halloween and Christmas, Whittemore said, the most important aspect is, “just giving him [my son] the security. It’s something I never had as a child.”

To have that kind of security on Cape Cod is the icing on the cake. “It is so beautiful here,” Whittemore said. “I’m pretty content to call this place my home.”

Give Hope to a HAC Client

Tags: Jan Nelson, Family Self Sufficiency, FSS, homeownership, Stacey Whittemore

FSS Program Helps Family Find Perfect Home

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, Aug 25, 2017 @ 05:30 PM
Amy Gregoire-Edited2.jpgAmy Gregoire with two of her children, Josie (left) and Susie, at her FSS graduation. Amy and her husband recently moved into a new Habitat for Humanity home in West Yarmouth. 

When Amy Gregoire first met HAC’s Jan Nelson in 2013, the thought of her ever becoming self-sufficient, let alone a homeowner was far-fetched. “I had a subsidized apartment and felt I was so in over my head, I didn’t think I’d ever have the money to move out of there,” Gregoire said. “Jan calmly said, ‘You can do it. If other people can do it, you can do it.’... I know I wouldn’t be sitting here with three jobs and a new house if it wasn’t for [Jan].”

With two of her three children by her side, Gregoire made the statement at HAC’s offices when the agency recently celebrated her graduation from the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. Managed by Nelson, the program provides a road map for those like Gregoire, who have a Section 8 voucher, to increase their income so they can move off of public assistance.

Over the past five years, Gregoire was able to do just that, working three part-time jobs and enrolling at Bristol Community College where she’s studying to be an occupational therapy assistant.

Her busy schedule got even busier this past year when she and her husband Torey spent their weekends helping to build the Habitat for Humanity home they moved into in May. The Gregoires, which include their three daughters Lucie, Josie and Susie, were one of six families selected for newly built Habitat homes on Virginia Street in West Yarmouth.

As part of the FSS program, Gregoire was able to accumulate almost $3,000 in escrow savings and another $5,000 she received for giving up her Section 8 voucher and becoming a homeowner. A portion of that money went towards closing costs as well as some furniture for their new home.

As she described that new home to HAC staff, there was a sense of joy in her voice. “It is less than a mile from the ocean,” Gregoire said. “It is in a nice little neighborhood… It’s on a quiet cul-de-sac. It couldn’t be more perfect.”

Help Families Like This

Tags: Jan Nelson, Family Self Sufficiency, FSS, homeownership, Amy Gregoire

FSS Client a Role Model for Her Family

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, May 26, 2017 @ 12:54 PM
Jan Nelson-Edited.jpgJan Nelson, HAC's Family Self-Sufficiency coordinator, helps those receiving Section 8 vouchers move off public assistance as part of a five-year program aimed at helping clients achieve self-sufficiency. 

The date may have said April 1, but for Lisa* and her two teenaged children, this day was no joke. They were moving into their own home, representing the culmination of four years of dedication to HAC’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program.

Just a week earlier, Lisa was at HAC to celebrate her graduation from the program which provides savings incentives for those receiving a Section 8 voucher. As part of the FSS program, clients who increase their salaries have their rent increased, with the difference between the new monthly rent and the old one placed into an escrow savings account. Upon completion of FSS, clients can tap into that account, using the money as they deem fit.

Lisa, who entered the program in 2013, was able to accumulate nearly $14,500 in savings that she used towards a down payment on a new three-bedroom home in Cotuit which she purchased through an affordable housing lottery. Because she was giving up her voucher, she received another $5,000.

Dickerson House-Edited 2.jpgHAC as able to help Lisa purchase this home earlier this year. At the beginning of April, she moved into the home with her two children. 

“Dreams do come true,” Lisa said to HAC staff at her graduation party. She was joined by her mother Susan*, a current FSS client, who expressed delight in all that her daughter has achieved. “I am so happy for her,” Susan said. “She deserves this and has worked so hard for it.”

Jan Nelson, HAC’s FSS coordinator, had similar words of praise for Lisa, who came to the program just after she had been laid off from her job. Lisa is proof, Nelson said, that “hard work does pay off.”

For the past 12 years, Lisa and her children had been living in a two-bedroom apartment in Centerville. Admittedly, she had doubts that owning a home would ever be possible. But thanks to Jan’s help and HAC’s support – Lisa also took the agency’s First-Time Homebuyer workshop – she discovered that it is.

As she and her children were about to embark on this new adventure, Lisa spoke about the little things – taking her boys trick-or-treating and cooking her first meal – that she was most looking forward to experiencing in her new home.

Lisa’s new home has provided a sense of pride, not only for her, but her entire family. “I am the first person in my family to become a homeowner,” she said. “So not only is it exciting for myself, but it’s exciting for my family… I didn’t do this just for myself, but for my children to show them you can accomplish anything you want and you can reach for your dreams.”

*The names of the clients in this story have been changed.

Tags: Section 8, Jan Nelson, Family Self Sufficiency, FSS

FSS Graduate One Step Closer to Homeownership

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, Dec 23, 2016 @ 01:08 PM
Amy Feren Jan Nelson-3.jpgJan Nelson (left), HAC's FSS Coordinator, with Amy Feren at her graduation in October. 

Being a single mother is not easy. Mashpee’s Amy Feren can attest to that as she raises three children of her own. “There is no easy way around it,” she said. “You get up, make them breakfast, bring them to school and pick them up at the end of the day. You stick to a routine and do it all over again, every day.

“The weather doesn’t matter. The price of gas doesn’t matter. Life still goes on,” she continued. “It is very challenging with one income to make ends meet. It’s more difficult trying to accomplish what a two-income household has.”

Thanks to HAC’s help, overcoming those challenges has become a little easier. It started when Feren received a Section 8 voucher, allowing her to afford an apartment on Cape Cod. “Without one, my kids wouldn’t have a home,” Feren said. “I needed it because the rental prices are so high [here].”

Five years ago, Feren enrolled in HAC’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program which provides incentives for those with vouchers to take steps to increase their income and focus on career development, all in an effort to achieve self-sufficiency.

Celebrating Feren's FSS Achievements

At a ceremony at HAC in October, staff gathered to celebrate Feren’s graduation from FSS. There was cake and congratulations, but the biggest gift was a check for $11,991.71, representing the money she had saved over the past five years. As part of the FSS program, any increase in earned income is placed into an escrow account participants can access upon graduation.

Feren, who earned a paralegal certificate while in the program and is currently employed as an office manager in Plymouth, plans on using that money to purchase a home. If she does so in the next two years and gives up her housing voucher, she will receive an additional $5,000 from the state that she can use towards the down payment, closing costs or post-purchase expenses.

When asked why it is so important to become a homeowner, Feren replied, “to be self-reliant, to be self-sufficient. That is exactly what this program stands for and I think it is everybody’s dream. Every working person who contributes to society, I think they want to own their own home.”

Soon that will not be a dream for Feren, but a reality. She credited Jan Nelson, who manages the FSS program for HAC, for making that possible. “My life has consisted of a lot of ups and downs and some worse than others, but with your kindness and guidance I now have the tools to continue forward in life,” she wrote to Jan in an email following the ceremony. “You have been my one constant through my many, many years working with HAC and the Section 8 program.” 

Give Hope to a HAC Client

Tags: Section 8, Jan Nelson, Family Self Sufficiency, FSS, homeownership, Amy Feren

FSS Client Receives "One Family" Scholarship

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Wed, Sep 21, 2016 @ 10:56 AM
Janice_Jan_Edited-16.jpgHAC's Jan Nelson (left) with Janice Jones.

Success means different things to different people. For West Barnstable’s Janice Jones, it will one day mean becoming a homeowner. “There is something about owning a home that makes me feel like I accomplished something good,” she said.

Jones is not there yet, but the goal is within reach thanks to the assistance of HAC. Jones is currently enrolled in the agency’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program which provides incentives for those receiving federal housing subsidies to build their financial assets. Participants do so by increasing their earned income, which is then placed into an escrow account that they can access upon graduating from the program to use as they see fit, including education, starting a small business or purchasing a home.

The 49-year-old Jones has been in the FSS program for a little over a year, balancing that with a job as a lead preschool teacher at the YMCA Cape Cod in Barnstable, raising her 12-year-old son Marcus and taking online classes at the University of Massachusetts Amherst towards a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.

Jan Nelson, HAC’s FSS coordinator, has been so impressed with Jones’ work ethic that she nominated her for a One Family Scholarship. In the application, Nelson highlighted Jones’ ability as a single mother to juggle her work and family obligations, all while spending three years earning her associate’s degree from Eastern Nazarene College where she graduated summa cum laude.

The One Family Scholarship is given to low-income single parents, providing them with the financial support necessary to obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. In August, Jones was notified that she was one of 17 applicants chosen as a scholar, attending a reception in Boston where they were each given a laptop to use as part of their college studies. “I cried,” Jones admitted. “It was so awesome.”

Along with a Federal Pell Grant, Jones will use the scholarship to cover her college costs.

The scholarship is just one source of motivation for Jones as she sets her sights on eventually graduating college and owning a home on Cape Cod, where she has lived for the past 13 years. Her son Marcus – she has two adult children, Candice, 30, and Derrick, 21 – is another motivating factor for her. “I want to show my son it can be done,” she said. “I want him to be proud of me.”

Since last year, HAC’s Nelson has been helping Jones in her journey. “She is always there when I need her,” Jones said of Nelson. “She’s just been a really good support system for me.”

It’s a support system she will continue to rely on as she moves closer to reaching her goals. “I’ve always wanted to own a home and it seems more reachable now,” she said.

Learn more about HAC's Family Self-Sufficiency Program by clicking this link.

Tags: Jan Nelson, Family Self Sufficiency, One Family Scholarship, FSS, Janice Jones

Looking Back at 2014: HAC's Top Stories

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Tue, Jan 13, 2015 @ 11:51 AM


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Saying farewell is always bittersweet. And so it is with 2014, an exciting year in which HAC celebrated its 40th anniversary, opened a day center for the homeless in Hyannis and began work on the first phase of a much-needed project that will bring 40 affordable homes to Nantucket.

As we embark on what we hope will be a fruitful 2015, we talked to a few ardent HACbeat readers to take a look back at 2014 and find out what their favorite stories were from last year.

Opening of the Day Center at NOAH (Michael Sweeney, VP of administration and finance)

A 33-year veteran of HAC, Sweeney has a soft spot for stories that detail new initiatives at the agency.

And that is why his top pick from last year falls into that exact category. “In many ways, the day program is really the culmination of the community, Housing Assistance, Duffy Health Center, Vinfen, the police, all these groups coming together and saying, ‘Hey, we really need to do something here,’” Sweeney said. “To take a group like that, representing all different agencies, and having a united front and asking the state for additional funding for this program is really remarkable.”

Rick Presbrey’s Columns & A Home for the Hesse Family (Matt Pitta, WXTK radio host and MC of HAC’s annual meeting)

When Pitta receives his monthly newsletter, his first stop is always page 3 to read CEO Rick Presbrey’s editorial. “I like to see what Rick is thinking and he always has interesting ideas about what is going on in the housing community,” Pitta said. “And sometimes what he writes has nothing to do with housing, but he finds a way to relate it back to that.”

Pitta said one story published last summer about the Hesse family, living in his hometown of Harwich, was of particular interest to him. “It was a typical situation of the struggle so many families are facing on Cape Cod,” Pitta said. “There was a mom, a dad and their two kids. The father was working two jobs and they were finding it impossible to buy their rental home that was being sold. Then HAC got involved and they were able to purchase it.”

It was indicative of the type of stories he enjoys. “You wonder who is really being helped and is there a face,” he said.

“Those first-person stories of people and families being helped gives you a good understanding of that.”

HAC Client Realizes Dream of Homeownership (Jan Nelson, FSS Coordinator)

As HAC’s coordinator for the Family-Self Sufficiency (FSS) program, Jan Nelson has seen many clients graduate from the program, but few take the next step towards homeownership.

But Adrienne Gonsalves was different. Last year, she did both. And today she could not be happier.

“She absolutely loves her house,” Nelson said, explaining why this feel-good HACbeat story topped her list for 2014.

Your Favorite Articles 

Now that we've shared some of our readers' favorite stories, here are the ones YOU enjoyed most. The following are the top five most read online stories from 2014: 

  1. HAC Celebrates Completion of Great Cove Community
  2. Dream of Owning a Home is Realized
  3. Finding a Home on Cape Cod Thanks to NOAH Shelter
  4. Cape Cod Restaurateur Lends Expertise to NOAH Shelter
  5. Great Cove Community: Affordable Housing

Tags: NOAH Day Center, Jan Nelson, HAC, Rick Presbrey, FSS, Matt Pitta

HAC Helps Make Dream of Homeownership Possible

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Wed, Oct 15, 2014 @ 12:13 PM
Adrienne Gonsalves Check Photo resized 600Jan Nelson presents Adrienne Gonsalves with a mock-up of the check she received in August as reward for her completion of the Family Self-Sufficiency program.

Like most people Adrienne Gonsalves has long-wanted to have a home to call her own. In March, she took a major step toward attaining that goal when she graduated from HAC’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program which provides financial incentives for those receiving federal and state assistance to increase their salaries.

After four years in the program, Gonsalves earned just over $18,000 that included her own savings along with money provided to her by the government.

In May, the 36-year-old Gonsalves, whose daughter Torienne attends Barnstable High School, was featured in a HACbeat article that detailed how her completion of the FSS program was about to make her dream of homeownership become a reality.

Gonsalves returned to HAC in August to claim an additional reward for her hard work, a $5,000 check from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development that went towards her down payment and closing costs for a home in Cotuit she purchased later that month.

“It is so exciting,” said Gonsalves, unable to hide her smile.

When asked about the place she would be moving into shortly, she said, “I love it. It will be home to me. It looks like a little dollhouse. It is so cute.”

Gonsalves worked with Gael Kelleher in HAC’s real estate division to find the home.

And she was the beneficiary of a new state program that provides an additional $5,000 to those who complete the FSS program and are purchasing their first home. She represents the first client that Jan Nelson, the administrator for HAC’s FSS program, has worked with who has taken advantage of this benefit.

She is also only the second client in the past seven years that Nelson has overseen FSS to ever purchase a home.

“Just to see the strides Adrienne has made is incredible,” Nelson said, highlighting the power behind the FSS program. “I think people are so in awe that somebody cares for them enough to give them this money.”

And as the one who serves as the bearer of that good news, Nelson could not be happier. “I really do have the best job,” she said.

Tags: Jan Nelson, home ownership, HAC, FSS

HAC Provides Client Support She Needs to Attain Her Goals

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Wed, Sep 24, 2014 @ 03:23 PM
DSC 0012 resized 600HAC's Jan Nelson (left) and Jennifer Long with her two sons Micah and Kadin.

Life is much easier when you have someone who serves as your coach, cheerleader and friend to help navigate the hurdles that may come your way.

Jennifer Long of Hyannis was lucky enough to find such a person in Jan Nelson, the coordinator of HAC’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program, a little more than six years ago.

When she entered into the FSS program Nelson made these initial observations about Long: “she was a bright, energetic, young lady… she knows what she wants and she is committed to accomplishing her goals.”

At that first meeting Nelson asked Long what those long-term goals were. “The American dream: a good education, a good job, good health, a home, a husband and more kids,” Long answered.

Prior to working with Nelson, Long had already dealt with her share of hardship. She left home at the age of 17 and admitted that she “had never been taught financial stability or responsibility.”

She also suffered from adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And she not only had to learn how to care for herself at a young age, but for her son Kadin when she was 22.

The one thing she did not do is give up - securing housing, medical insurance through MassHealth, and public assistance through the state. And she also held a job at a childcare center.

Still it was easy for her to get discouraged. “It was hard to see my hard work show for nothing after bills and living expenses,” she said.

She found a glimmer of hope when her housing worker recommended Long for the FSS program while she pursued a career in the medical field as a nursing student at Cape Cod Community College.

Since being enrolled in the FSS program, Long has been able to achieve what she set out to do, crediting Nelson for playing an integral role in that journey. Nelson was the person she needed to “guide me through many difficult times,” Long said. “This program has given me hope that I am going to be a success.”

DSC 0007 resized 600

At a ceremony celebrating Long’s hard work at HAC’s headquarters in June, Nelson told Long that she is already a success. Long obtained her associate’s degree in nursing from Cape Cod Community College, becoming a registered nurse in July 2010.

She then enrolled in Curry College and will be graduating in December with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. In 2013, she became a certified nutritionist, starting her own company RNutrition Health & Wellness.

Her resume includes working at various nursing homes, with Greater Boston Home Health Care, as a substitute school nurse and a nutritionist at the YMCA.

In August 2011 she checked another goal off her list when she gave birth to Micah.

Though she still has yet to achieve homeownership, Nelson is confident that will happen sooner rather than later. Last month Nelson presented Long with a check for $28,337.94, money she earned through the FSS program which gives incentives to participants to increase their salaries and improve their careers. Any increase in their rents resulting from an increase in earned income is allocated into an escrow account. Upon completion of the FSS program those like Long are given the money that has been set aside for them as a reward for their efforts.

In the past six years, Long has been able to meet or exceed the majority of the goals she set out to achieve, but she knows there is still much more to accomplish. “Dreams and goals don’t stop,” she said. “They change. I am constantly redefining myself as a woman, and thanks to Jan and the FSS program I’ve developed the skills necessary to keep me striving for the best.”

Tags: Jan Nelson, Family Self Sufficiency, Jennifer Long, HAC, FSS