Waitlist Success Q&A Series – Nicole Nardone-Leavitt: ‘My Son Had a Friend Over for the First Time, and That Made Him so Happy’

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In 2021, the Cambridge Housing Authority released its “Can’t Wait List: Who Are The 21,000?” original publication to help humanize the many issues surrounding the affordable housing crisis seen on the national stage and, specifically, the steep demand for low affordable housing inventory across Massachusetts.

Cambridge alone is one of the most expensive real estate and rental markets in the country.

This resource proved to be a valuable tool, as real people from the CHA’s actual waiting lists were able to appeal to readers in their own words as to what a successful outcome after years-long wait times would mean to them.

Cambridge non-profit membership director and resilient mother of two, Nicole Nardone-Leavitt, recently received the call that now more than 22,000 individuals are hoping to receive.

CHA: First of all, we are so happy for you. It seems you are no stranger to Cambridge.

Nicole: “Thank you so much. And no, not at all. I have served the Cambridge community for many years, since the early 2000’s. I grew up next door in Union Square, Somerville, and since a young age had started helping out my aunt at a childcare program in East Cambridge and then I followed her to the Y in Central Square. Even though I went to art school for Sign Design, I was glad I had found a home at the Y where I enjoyed what I was doing, because the job I got with my degree wasn’t what I thought it would be. I love Cambridge, and more importantly, my kids do too.”

CHA: Your children must have been elated to learn you were coming off of the waiting list. What was it like to tell them?

Nicole: “It meant everything to them because we could finally each have our own spaces versus sharing a room. We felt trapped because we did everything there. And for my daughter specifically, she could now proudly say like her friends that she was a Cambridge resident too – she really wanted that. She’s so excited to go to CRLS. It’s the overlooked things that are meaningful to people. My son had a friend over for the first time, and that made him so happy. My kids get to go in and out of their rooms at their leisure, down to their own kitchen to grab something, and just feel comfortable in their own home, finally, to do and decorate however they want, not having to be quiet for anyone. They can be them.”

CHA: Thank you for sharing that. How did that make you feel as a mom?

Nicole: “Incredibly proud – I did this for my son and daughter. They could never have playdates where we were. During April school break, they both had their friends over and they were so excited about it. They had been talking about it for so long leading up to it and ended up having a great time. I could hear them say they were proud of their home, their friends in exchange were so happy for them. That’s what makes the journey worthwhile. But also, I get to be close to my mom. She always comes over and the kids always want her. I am so happy. I got exactly what I had hoped for and it has been better than I ever imagined. No complaints here.”

CHA: We do understand the urgency and patience of being on the waiting list. How did you get through it?

Nicole: “I was borderline obsessed with checking the waitlist. I originally went to put my mother on it for senior housing and decided to submit an application as well, because you never know. I remember when she got a placement, it made me want it even more. I would check in a lot with Kevin Braga [CHA Director of Operations] and the CHA’s online portal to get me through the day. I loved seeing my number change and move up the list, it gave me hope during a difficult time.”

CHA: You mention connecting with Kevin during your time on the waiting list, how did that go for you?

Nicole: “Wow, I love Kevin. He has so much patience. I feel like I would have just given up hope for everything if I wasn’t able to check in with him. He never made me feel like I was bothering him and would just encourage me to hang in there while answering all my questions. I remember even asking him if he thinks I should just grab all my savings and put my hopes somewhere else if realistically this was a million years away from happening. Checking in with him became a source of preventing any feeling of hopelessness. I gained strength, stuck it out, and got it.”

CHA: What was that moment like, to learn you were being offered a placement by the CHA?

Nicole: “I had a PO Box at the time and received an email notification with a mail preview. When I opened it, my heart sunk when I saw an image of an envelope with the CHA logo. I thought, what if this was it? I don’t know why I had that weird feeling. When I went to pick up my mail, I held the envelope and closed my eyes before opening it. I was hoping for good news and for my preferred placement of Corcoran Park, where everything important in my life is close to me. I looked at it sealed one final time and said, “Please let this be it.” Immediately upon opening it, I saw the letters C-O and just lost it inside. I had to really contain myself because I was at the post office. I stepped out and called my mom and my friends crying, we were all crying. I had needed this urgently. I let the CHA know right away that I was interested, we set up the appointment, and I never looked back. It meant the world to leave this stress behind me. I am so grateful to have this opportunity.”

CHA: What is your message to people currently on our waiting lists?

Nicole: “I am so appreciative to have had somewhere to stay while we waited. I would say as long as you have a place to stay in the meantime, just know, it will happen for you. Have a lot of faith in it working out. I don’t think I would have made it through if I didn’t put out into the universe that it would happen for me. That’s what got me through the waiting. In the meantime, I did things slowly over time and even saved up gift cards to prepare for this day. I had a very smooth move-in because I had prepared for so long.”