When families move into Harmony House, New Community’s transitional living facility, they know it won’t be their home forever. The average stay is six to nine months and families must be moving towards self-sufficiency the entire time.
It is the job of Melvina Coleman, the relocation specialist at Harmony House, to help families find a place to live when the time arrives for them to move on.
“It’s been very challenging, but at the same time, totally rewarding,” said Coleman, 53, who has been in the position of relocation specialist since December of 2000.
Harmony House residents who are clients of WorkFirst NJ (WFNJ) may receive help with relocation through the Temporary Rental Assistance program, which will provide funding to help pay monthly rental costs for a limited period of time. Coleman, however, noted it often takes a lot of persuasion on her part to close the deal with a potential landlord.
“Locating housing that is truly affordable is like finding a needle in a haystack. Even if they are working, the incomes are so small that the rent and income usually are running neck and neck. When you do have a family whom you can pair with a homeowner who is willing to work with you, it’s so rewarding because you have really impacted someone’s life,” said Coleman, who also helps families physically relocate if they cannot afford a rental truck to move their belongings.
Coleman said she has been out in public and had kids run up to her and give her a big hug around her waist, thanking her for finding their family an apartment.
“They get so excited and I can’t always say I remember the child,” she said. “It just feels good because you know you’ve made a difference.”
Coleman, a licensed real estate agent, said it may take several weeks to secure an apartment for a client. She researches on the computer and also “beats the pavement” scouting for affordable units. Then there is all the paperwork involved, in addition to meeting with contractors if any repairs are necessary, preparing the lease and setting up inspections.
“She’s an asset to Harmony House because her focus is on the outcome. At Harmony House, our goal is to make sure everybody gets into an apartment and that no one leaves here homeless,” said Diane Young-Garrett, Administrator.
Coleman is a native Newarker whose father, Everett Coleman, was part of the famous spiritual/ jubilee singing group, “The Coleman Brothers,” known for hits like “His Eye is On the Sparrow” “Milky White Way (Elvis Presley bought the rights to this song) and “Sending Up My Timber.”
“My mother died when I was two, so my dad raised me. I was the baby of nine girls and two boys,” said Coleman, whose early years were spent in a house on High Street, but who at age 10 or 11 moved in with an older sister, first living in Montclair before relocating to East Orange.
A graduate of East Orange High School, Coleman attended Essex County College for a year and then enrolled in Empire Technical School, where she obtained her license to be a medical secretary. She later obtained a real estate license and has used her knowledge and savvy ever since to help Harmony House residents take the important step of moving into a home of their own.