Fenwickian Finds a Job—and a Cause—Solving Families’ Housing Needs

25-year-old Fenway resident Drew Nemer doesn’t just have his own home to think about, he has about 200 more. His work at the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership (MBHP) has helped low-income residents find and maintain affordable homes.

Nemer works as a program representative in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, one of many different programs offered by the MBHP. “The voucher is tied to a certain set of apartments that are controlled by companies [and] landlords, and we fill them with people who apply,” Nemer explains, describing the work the MBHP does. When there’s a problem between the tenants and owners, any conflict, or tenants want to relocate, it’s Nemer’s job to resolve it. “I’m like their case worker,” he states. Some of the people whose residency Nemer helps maintain have been in the voucher program for 30 years.

MBHP is a nonprofit, governmental contracting agency that serves 5,100 households through the voucher program in Massachusetts. Nemer has complete belief in the organization’s ability to lift people out of poverty. According to him, the number of families seeking MBHP’s help in the past decade or so has doubled, so the work is more important than ever. “The rent prices in Boston are astronomical,” he says with indignation.

It’s easy to forget housing when you think of basic needs, especially when the number of people living without it is factored in. Nemer’s list of basic needs has housing highlighted. “It all starts by having a home,” he says. “You need someplace to live before you get a paying job. There’s so many more chances of people getting rejected if they don’t have a permanent address.”

Nonprofit work has been a part of Nemer’s life since his days at Brandeis University. He studied sociology and anthropology and was an advocate for social justice and women’s rights throughout his time in school. He worked at another nonprofit, the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, before switching to helping people find and sustain homes.

He began working at MBHP by assisting with the intake coordinating of Section 8, a federal program offering subsidized housing. During his few months there, Nemer helped approximately 150 individuals who had spent as much as 10 years on the waiting list for a lease. At the beginning of this year, he switched to his current position with the voucher program.

Nemer takes his dedication to helping people very seriously. “They look to us, and it’s a huge responsibility and a privilege,” he says. His daily work involves dealing with a lot of questions from those looking for affordable housing, and his way of speaking about them displays a genuine concern for their residential problems. “I’ve been touched by the people I’ve encountered,” he relates. “I’ve met very nice, hardworking people, heard stories of people who’ve benefited greatly from this program.”

With MBHP’s impending move to Roxbury Crossing, Nemer says he’s looking forward to helping people from the Fenway, which has been his home for two years. His daily tasks include income monitoring of families residing in subsidized homes and helping resolve any problems that may arise due to changes in incomes, living conditions or family issues.

“A lot of it is paperwork, lot of it is calculations, but it cannot be done without the human element.”
He thinks of his work like healthcare. According to him, people worry about their home like they worry about healthcare, and he acts like a doctor who they go to when they’re having health problems.

He says what he learns from his work at MBHP is balancing everyone who comes to him in need to trying and address all of their problems. As for future plans, he wants to build on the sort of work he does now. “I hope to improve welfare in low-income people and to make Boston a much better place to live for everyone.”

Eesha Pendharkar is a graduate student at the Boston University School of Journalism. For more information on the MBHP’s work, visit www.mbhp.org.

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