Orange Housing Authority Manager Cristina Mateo Buys Her First Home in Orange
In so many ways, Cristina Mateo embodies everything the Orange Housing Authority stands for. An employee of the OHA since she was 20, Cristina rose through the ranks, all in the service of her community. Now, she used her housing expertise to buy her first home in the East Ward, Orange.
Cristina’s story began in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, where she was born to a traditional family with a stay-at-home mother. The family emigrated to The Bronx, eventually finding their way to Orange, New Jersey, where they found a home in an OHA facility.
“We didn’t speak any English, and we were basically homeless, living with a cousin and sleeping on the floor, but we were committed to growing and being successful,” remembered Mateo. “We had the opportunity to live in a family unit from the Housing Authority.
“I used to go the office all the time, and one day I was asked if I wanted a job there.”
So began Mateo’s long association with the OHA. She started as a part-time bilingual clerk, progressed to supervisor of the after school and summer camp program, then a bilingual tenant interviewer and to her current position as a bilingual assistant housing manager for the senior building of 250 apartment units.
In her spare time, Mateo earned an Associate’s degree from Essex County College and two Bachelors of Art degrees from Rutgers. She is currently working toward a Master’s degree in Public Administration. She is also an active member of the Army National Guard, having served in Iraq for a year.
“The Housing Authority adjusted my schedule when I was in school and supported me when I was in the military,” stated Mateo. “They helped me grow completely. Everything I am right now is because of the Housing Authority. I am lucky to have found a family here.”
On November 15, 2017, during the Annual League of Municipality she passed the NAHRO certification examination for Public Housing Manager.
“I do not want to stop here,” said Mateo. “Some of the Housing Authority members, like Walter McNeil, executive director, Marianna DeVincentis, program retired director, and Susan Moore, coordinator had inspired me to re-rout my education to public administration. I see how they worked in their field and the great things they do for the agency and for the people, and I want to be able to do the same.”
Outside the OHA Mateo is a familiar face in the city. In May 2014, she was appointed by Mayor Dwayne Warren to the board of education and became the first Hispanic board president the following year. She founded her own non-profit, Hispanos Mano A Mano, in 2011, to ensure that information reaches Hispanic communities. She even became an entrepreneur when she opened Garibaldi Restaurant & Grill in Orange.
But now, Mateo is on the receiving end as a home buyer. She began the process by educating herself, attending the home buyer program at Tri-City Peoples Corporation, a non-profit dedicated to the social and economic self-sufficiency for the residents of Newark, East Orange, and Irvington. She also attended workshops at NJIT and TD Bank that taught her financial literacy. She applied for a VA loan and participated is the OHA’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program where she was able to save money.
“The Family Self-Sufficiency Program has been very successful,” reported Mateo. “People have been able to send kids to college and become homeowners.”
“The Orange Housing Authority’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program gives first-time homebuyers the confidence to make this life-changing purchase,” said Walter McNeil, OHA’s executive director. “We give homebuyers the tools they need to make wise decisions that fit their financial goals.”
The Family Self Sufficiency Program has had a constant stream of 25 to 30 participants yearly since the Authority hired a coordinator, Susan Moore, in 2008. Moore tailors a program for each participant to help them become gainfully employed and welfare free. The participants make a five-year contract affirming their goals. Many participants’ goals include homeownership. As their earned income increases they escrow money to be used towards their goal. At the end of the five-year period, if they meet their goal and are welfare free they receive their escrow.
Mateo completed the Family Self Sufficiency program and met her goal. This was a big help in purchasing her home. The program has graduated over 10 participants and has dispersed escrow in excess of $71,000.
For those thinking of beginning their first house hunt, Mateo said, “My advice would be to become educated as much as possible before buying their first home. Being educated is the main thing.”
About the Orange Housing Authority
The City of Orange Housing Authority works to transform the City of Orange by providing safe, livable and affordable housing that promotes the development of communities. At the Orange Housing Authority, participants are not statistics, they are neighbors. The OHA knows the community and tailors programs to better serve the participant’s needs. Whether it is a search for housing, assistance with foreclosure or neighborhood development, the Orange Housing Authority stands ready to offer its services to all residents.