IMPORTANT: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has changed the application process for emergency rental assistance! Click here to learn more
Staff Spotlight: Melanie Nunez, Homeownership Advisor
The best kind of coach? Someone you can trust to have a rock-solid gameplan and ready answers. Who can visualize and articulate the path forward. Who shows compassion, especially when you’re down. Paired with the openness to learn with—and from—you.
When Way Finders’ Rental Assistance department hired Melanie Nunez as a housing counselor in December 2019, it may have been her background in property management of market-rate units that stood out. Today, it’s her drive to coach clients—with clarity, with empathy—that most shines through.
“I love everything housing,” says Homeownership Advisor Melanie Nunez, who worked previously for a real estate developer.
“I applied to Way Finders because it has all these different avenues for housing—homeownership, rental assistance—to help families. And we’re constantly growing with new initiatives, building apartments, helping people with tools to succeed. No other agency in this area is doing what we’re doing, Way Finders is a game changer.”
Melanie was familiar with Way Finders from a landlord’s perspective—as a resource that she’d direct tenants to—and was eager to dive into the “flip side,” as she puts it. To provide that help, to be that resource, for those seeking project-based vouchers and other subsidized housing.
She was also drawn by Way Finders’ opportunities for professional growth. As Melanie experienced in July 2021, when she joined the Homeownership department.
“It’s an awesome job! I basically help people reach their goals. Every month, I teach at least one workshop to the public, whether it’s First-time Homebuyer or Credit Success,” says Melanie. “And every day, I meet with three or four clients to give credit and homeownership counseling. First-time clients are longer appointments. Follow-up meetings are to check in: ‘How’s this going? Did you review the budget chart I uploaded? Were you able to save this amount we talked about last month?’”
A counseling session is required of clients who take Frameworks—a self-paced, online version of the First-time Homebuyer Workshop. Others reach out after participating in a workshop.
Many clients, Melanie knows, are more used to being cut down than built up. She flips the script.
“It’s nice for them to have a breath of fresh air, to hear someone say, ‘People buy homes every day, so can you!’” says Melanie. “A lot of the times they know what they need to do. I’m just there to give a push or a little support. I’m not there to tell them what to do with their finances. It’s more, ‘You told me this is your goal, is it still? How badly do you want it?’ I can’t want it more than them. But I can say, ‘I believe in you, now believe in yourself.’ Then together we can work on obstacles.”
Getting to this point in her career involved a big push of her own: to become a HUD-certified housing counselor. Melanie studied intensely for three months and, on her first try, passed the test. There were flash cards involved. And virtual study sessions. As she became fluent in everything from mortgage lending and fair housing to calculating what someone can afford to spend on a house.
“And every time a rule in the housing market changes? There’s a webinar!” says Melanie. “I’ve uploaded at least 25 certificates this year in Paycor, it’s like ongoing education all the time, which I love. Staying current, with info from HUD and Neighborworks America, is what makes me feel confident in my job.”
Melanie has been counseling on her own since January 2022, after a few weeks spent shadowing her colleagues—by prepping for their workshops and appointments—and being observed by them.
Felicia Berard was one of her first clients, and they continue to work together. “Every time I talk to her, it’s a good feeling, knowing that I’m a part of her journey,” says Melanie, who prioritizes helping clients feel at ease.
“I want people to know, from how I speak and listen, that I’m human. That I care. And I don’t know everything, just because I’m in a position of helping them reach a goal. There’s always more to learn, and I learn from my clients all the time.”
Melanie, who owns a two-family home in West Springfield with her husband Chris and cats Pumpkin and Moonlight, is originally from Brooklyn, New York. “In middle school, shortly after 9/11, my mom moved me and my sisters to Springfield, we actually lived right downtown in the South End.”
She arrives at our interview wearing the 2022 Way Finders’ staff picnic t-shirt. Accessorized with pearl earrings and necklace, gifts from her husband.
“Pearls are my sister Jasmine’s birthstone,” says Melanie. “I lost her in 2011 to domestic violence.”
To honor her sister’s memory and raise awareness, Melanie founded the Jasmine Nunez Foundation. Through her nonprofit, by speaking at local colleges and taking part in community events, Melanie connected in 2014 with the YWCA in Springfield.
“I started as a hotline worker on the 24/7 phone line,” she says. “Then I began meeting one-on-one with clients as a domestic violence counselor and facilitated support groups. I did that until earlier this year. It’s the kind of position that didn’t exist at part-time, it was full-time.”
And somehow, between working two jobs, Melanie managed to plan an outdoor wedding in Greenfield in October 2022—described by her photographer as “the stuff fall dreams are made of.”
“It was a good day, really nice, foliage everywhere. My decorations were mostly a burnt orange terracotta color, let me show you my table design,” says Melanie, who counts bowling and visits to breweries (to sample IPAs) among her top hobbies. “We also love taking road trips to random little towns and renting an Airbnb. And watching movies at home with my new stepson Chris Jr.”
Thank you, Melanie, for all you do to serve Way Finders!