Pictured from left are Michelle W. with Realtor Jeanne Crowley and loan officer Rick Simoneau at Michelle's new home
Over a decades long career as a jazz singer, band leader and songwriter, Michelle toured and performed across the United States and in other countries, but it was only recently that she achieved her longtime goal of owning her own home.
With the help of the MassDREAMS program through MassHousing, Michelle recently moved into her single-family home in Holland in Central Massachusetts. She will be the first to say what a long, strange trip it's been.
"This is the first home I have ever owned," she said. "I dropped out of UMass (Amherst) in the 70s to do music and I have had a long and satisfying career doing that. But honestly, I never made a lot of money."
Now a radio host and program director at a Central Mass jazz station, Michelle decided several years ago she wanted to achieve several things she had put aside in life. She went back to UMass and completed a degree in Nonprofit Arts Management in 2019 through the college's University Without Walls program for non-traditional students, while working full time.
She next wanted to buy a home, so she enrolled in a homebuyer education course and started to save the $5,000 she was told she would need up front to buy a house.
"I took the first-time buyer course a couple of years ago and it was great because I didn't really know anything," she said. "It helped me a lot and made me feel more comfortable when I started looking."
She had some minor setbacks when the money she saved had to be used on car repairs and then a second round of savings were used on medical expenses. Finally, Michelle was ready to start looking for houses and connected with real estate agent Jeanne Collins Crowley from Re/Max Professional Associates.
"Jeanne was phenomenal," said Michelle. "I wanted to move out of the city. I didn't want an apartment condo, or have to deal with a condo association, I just wanted a little house by myself. The minute I stepped inside a half dozen properties I looked around and thought, is this really what I want? I was getting doubtful about if this is what I really wanted."
That is when everything changed with one phone call.
"Jeanne called me and said 'there is a place in Holland, and you need to see it right now,'" said Michelle. "It was a on a lake, and part of this small lake community, and it was a place meant for someone like me. I got to know the owners a little, and they were so generous, and they wanted to make this work for me."
Michelle connected with Rick Simoneau, a loan officer at Fairway Independent Mortgage, who quickly told her about the MassDREAMS program that would provide a grant she used for down payment assistance, closing costs and to lower her interest rate.
MassDREAMS (Delivering Real Equity and Mortgage Stability) was designed to address the racial homeownership gap, and to boost Massachusetts communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The impact has exceeded the program's high expectations. The program was launched last September, and due to popularity was suspended the following November. In just 79 days, MassHousing paired MassDREAMS grants with its affordable home mortgage loans to help hundreds of low- and moderate-income first-time home buyers – many of whom are people of color – purchase a home in Massachusetts.
"Rick found out about this program and said you need to get ready for this," said Michelle. "Rick was so attentive, and took my calls, and called me back and was so nice even though I had a lot questions. I needed hand holding. He was on MassDREAMS like a rocket once it was announced. I can't be more grateful to both Rick and Jeanne."
With everything moving quickly, Michelle was working on her MassHousing first mortgage financing with MassHousing’s down payment assistance through Rick and Fairway, and with MassHousing’s Homeownership staff on completing her MassDREAMS grant. She admits she was anxious as the closing date approached.
"The person at MassHousing responded and wanted to know when the closing was," said Michelle. "The week of the closing she emailed me on a Sunday night to say you’ve been approved, it's good to go. I thought, it was a Sunday night, and these people are working so hard to make this happen. I’ve been around a long time, and I think things are just not like that. But to think there were people so dedicated by sending messages on a Sunday night to take care of me just blew me away. I am so grateful to everyone."
Once all the financing was in place, it was still "scary, but I felt I could do this," added Michelle.
Michelle said over the years she is hard pressed to name another program that gave her the opportunity that MassDREAMS did to make such a positive impact on her life.
"It's so life changing for me as an older person to be able to buy my own home, but what about young people," she asked. "For them to be able to have a home, these programs are what’s going to make that possible for those younger people. I know how hard it is to be poor, to live month to month worrying about rent and bills. If I can do it, anyone can do it and this program made the difference for me and I hope for many others," she added.
"The joy of this business is helping people like Michelle and having the right team together to help her achieve her goal of owning her own home," said Jeanne. "As soon as Rick Simoneau told me about the MassDREAMS program, Michelle was my first call. I knew I had to connect the two of them to make this happen and that we had a narrow window in which to do it. Michelle was touring in Europe in the middle of all this and Rick and his team made sure she didn't miss a beat. I am so grateful for this program, which allowed deserving, hardworking people like Michelle to put down roots in Massachusetts. We don't want to lose our artists, musicians, writers, and performers due to our high housing costs - they are needed in our communities now more than ever. This program gives them the opportunity to stay here."
After visiting and touring through Europe over the years, Michelle regularly told friends she would like to live in Holland.
"My dream has always been to live in Holland, it's just Holland, Massachusetts now, and that is fine," she laughed.