Monique Ocasio knows important information when she hears it.
“I went to a new-hire orientation when I first started here in 2005,” said the assistant to the resident dean at Currier House. “And one of the things they highlighted was this housing transitional loan. I remember writing that down on a piece of paper because in all my years of employment I never heard of such a thing.”
The zero-interest loan, provided by the Harvard University Employees Credit Union through the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), is just one of three that union members can get, with no credit check, as long as they have no other loans with the credit union. The rental transition loan Ocasio received is the most popular of the three; it gives employees who are moving from one apartment to another up to $2,500 to cover their security deposit and first and last months’ rent.
“I was living at my mom’s house at the time and really wanted to get out,” Ocasio said. “I knew I didn’t have $2,000 saved up. One of the things I appreciated most at that time in my life was not only the zero interest, but that there are zero questions asked.” So though her credit history was brief, she said, “I didn’t have to worry about that interfering with my ability to get the loan.”
Marsha Frazier, a faculty assistant at the Kennedy School, used a different kind of HUCTW loan, the emergency loan, when her furnace died the day before Thanksgiving a few years ago. “Fortunately my daughter was cooking Thanksgiving dinner that year,” she said, “so that made my life easier. But still, furnaces are expensive, and I didn’t like depleting my savings. You never know when there’s going to be some other catastrophe that you’ve got to pay out of pocket for.”
Frazier knew about the emergency loans, which also cover up to $2,500 in expenses, but never considered taking one out until she happened to bump into a union representative and mention the Thanksgiving disaster. “I guess I thought it was for someone in even more dire straits,” she said.
Ocasio has used the rental transition loan three times in her almost six years at Harvard. “It’s hard to save up a couple thousand dollars to move,” she said.
The third kind of loan is similar to Ocasio’s, but is for homeowners rather than renters and covers moving expenses up to $1,000. Faculty assistant Kate Zirpolo was glad it was available when she bought a new house in Roslindale last April.
“It just made moving easier,” she said. “My husband would have been reluctant to hire movers for as long as we needed them. But getting $1,000 where it wouldn’t hurt us in any way was basically a no-brainer.”
The money for each of the three loan types is taken directly out of employee’s paychecks over the course of a year, so repayment is easier to take. “I don’t miss the money,” Ocasio said. “It’s kind of like if you never have it in your pocket in the first place, then you adjust to it.”
From Harvard’s standpoint, payroll deductions also mean a very low default rate. “It’s hard to get zero-interest loans,” said Lynn Wang DeLacey, an HUCTW organizer. “But these are low risk for the University and the credit union, and they benefit our members.”
“These loans were established between the University and the union because of Harvard’s commitment to exploring creative ways to address the high cost of living in the Boston and Cambridge areas,” said Donna Scally, associate director of Labor and Employee Relations and a co-chair, with DeLacey, of the Harvard-HUCTW Joint Housing and Transportation Committee. The rental transition loan is the most popular, with 243 loans made in the contract period from 2007 to 2010. “And getting the loans is a very fast process.”
So fast that Zirpolo recalls having a check by the end of the day she applied.
“If you have your ducks in a row,” said Ocasio, “you can do it quickly. It’s one of the reasons I love working at Harvard. None of my previous employers has offered as much in benefits. There are a lot of hidden gems here.”
The next HARVie Chat is on March 10. Join Susan Keller and Susan Brogan of Harvard Real Estate Services to learn about the variety housing benefits for Harvard staff and faculty — whether you are a homeowner, home buyer, or renter. Learn about cash back on home purchases and sales, preferred mortgage brokers with discounted rates and/or closings costs, free home buying and selling seminars, and housing/rentals through Harvard University Housing.