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Monique’s path to the White House
The thing about stories? They have an uncanny way of getting stored in your brain. Where they can change how you feel and what you do—and how you interact with others.
When Housing Mobility Program Specialist Peter Delgado met with Monique Lawson of Springfield last year to introduce the economic mobility program Supporting Neighborhood Opportunities in Massachusetts (“SNO Mass”), she was upfront about her feelings.
“I told him I didn’t really want to be a part of his program,” says Monique of SNO Mass, which aims to help Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher recipients with school-aged children move to communities of greater health and educational opportunities. “Because I really wanted to get a house. I’d been preapproved three times before, but I never found anything. I’m picky, I like nice things, sorry!”
Monique’s situation reminded Peter of a client he’d worked with previously, Idalis Rios of Springfield. He began to relay Idalis’s story, and how she rebuilt her life in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and enjoyed working with local realtor Ana Vargas.
“Then he said, ‘Wait, I can do you one better. I’m going to call Idalis and let her tell you,’” says Monique, a mother of two. “And she did! She was so happy, talking about how she bought a house.”
When we met up with Monique at the start of 2023 to hear her story, it would not be an overstatement to say that she was beaming. On cloud nine. Effervescent. Glowing.
“It’s like everything has fallen into place for me this past year. Everything. It’s just exciting. It was just my year,” says Monique, a direct care specialist with Guidewire, Inc.
Beyond graduating from the Family Self-Sufficiency Program, getting her GED, landing a second job at a local school, and getting married, Monique and her husband also found their dream home.
“It’s brand new, with a double lot backyard. It’s white and it’s big, I call it the White House!” says Monique, who kept the process under wraps until she had keys in hand, just in case plans fell through. “After we closed in October, I told my kids, ‘Meet us at this address.’ They were like, ‘For what? Whose house is that?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s yours.’”
A driving force in Monique’s story involves an unexpected 23% rent hike at the Springfield apartment where she’d lived since age 18. Such a sharp uptick in housing is a cost burden shared by people across the country, as rents have risen more than 25% in the past three years—as noted in the January 2023 Biden-Harris Administration’s Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights.
“Last summer they were trying to raise the rent to $1,605. I didn’t think it was worth what I was already paying!” says Monique, who reconnected in earnest with Ana and Mortgage Loan Originator Freddie Rodriguez. “Ana immediately helped me get a new preapproval. We went to look at five houses. The last one we saw is the one we bought. They were very nice and really stayed on us, helping us do all the paperwork.”
At first Monique’s husband—who also works two jobs, in the mental health field—wasn’t sure about the house, which was at the top of their budget. But Monique’s alternative (“I said, ‘It’s either a house like this or I guess we’re moving to Atlanta!’”) persuaded him.
“We work because this is where we want to be. We want to stay in this house,” says Monique, who aspires to be a registered nurse. “Friends who see me now say, ‘Oh, you’ve got it good.’ But we didn’t always. As a single mom, there were little struggles. I always worked and my parents helped, but I didn’t always have a car. I got food stamps, MassHealth. I got Section 8 when my son was ten. But eventually I weaned myself off. Surviving on your own is hard. But you have to do it, right?”
As Monique reflects on her journey, much of it is measured by the strides of her children.
“I’m so proud of my son, he and his fiancée just bought a house in December, he didn’t tell anybody and they didn’t ask anybody for help! And he’s got his own car,” says Monique. “My daughter is 17, she’s been touring colleges. She’s trying for pre-med, she wants to be a dermatologist. So they’re going somewhere! I never went to college, but I’m trying to get there now. Sometimes they’ll talk about things they didn’t have growing up and I’m like, ‘But look at you now!’”
Knowing that she has freed up a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher? “It feels good. I was grateful for it, but I didn’t need it anymore, and there’s a lot of people who do. And I want my kids to see that.”
When not at work or hosting game nights—karaoke, bingo, cards—Monique and her family enjoy trips to New York, as her husband is from the Bronx. They may also be spotted at home improvement stores.
“The only thing we have to do at the house is the basement, the flooring and drywall. And it doesn’t have to be done right away,” says Monique, of her husband’s plans for a man cave. “So our thing is, we buy like two boxes every month, and let it pile up. Because everybody doesn’t have money to buy all that stuff at once. Then you have your friends come and you do it! I always plan out everything, when it comes to bills, every little money. I plan. Because you have to.”