“I had no intention of going into affordable housing,” says Katayoon Montazemi. “My background was in commercial real estate management.”
But when Katayoon volunteered to help lease homes at Mercy Housing in Los Angeles, CA, in 2014, she was hooked. “I fell in love with Mercy’s mission and affordable housing,” she says.
“It was the day after Thanksgiving when we had 29 families signing their lease on the same day, and giving them their keys…even now, talking about that moment brings tears to my eyes and I get goosebumps. For some of them this was a second chance in life and for some others this was the first time being able to afford living in a place they could call home. The tears of joy and their genuine gratitude as each family received their keys to their apartment made that Thanksgiving Holiday for me the most meaningful Thanksgiving. I realized then that this is where I belong, this is what I want to do.”
“And when I saw the dedication and the collaboration of the Mercy Housing team, working together, working around the clock, and making every effort, I was in awe. They truly restored my faith in team work. Each of them exemplified the meaning of working for a cause and not just a paycheck.”
When an Area Director of Operations (ADO) position opened up, Katayoon eagerly applied. “Let me show you what I’m capable of,” she said during her interview.
As an ADO, Katayoon is responsible for nine properties in the Los Angeles area, and works with people who struggle to pay market rate rents. She remembers one resident in particular.
“One day, I called an applicant and told her that she had an opportunity to live in a Mercy Housing community. She said, ‘Where are you located? I’m on my way.’ She didn’t even give me a chance to ask the first questions about her income and whether or not she would meet the requirements. She just came.
“She looked as dignified as she could, but disheveled and with a few bags in her hand. It was obvious she was living in her car. She looked at me and she said, ‘I promise you, as soon as I have a place to live, so I can take a shower, and clean myself up to go to work, I’ll get more hours. I’m working part time.’
“And then she looked at me with tears in her eyes and she said, ‘Do you understand what it means to change and clean up yourself in a public restroom?’
“I could not understand that, but I could see the pain in her eyes. As we went through her lease, I went paragraph by paragraph with her, page by page. And every single page, before she signed her initials, she drew a cross on her chest and thanked the Lord and cried.”
“She looked at me as I handed her the keys to her apartment, she gave me a big hug, and she said, ‘You have no idea how you’ve changed my life.’ I was absolutely speechless. I said, ‘I’m just facilitating this transaction, but thank you.’ And she said, ‘No, you have changed my life, you have no idea how this is going to change everything for me.’
“She is still a resident and every now and then she calls. She’s been able to establish a good career path for herself.”
“There are many, many others like that. Whether it’s initial lease up or bringing in a family that needs help or whether it’s a tenant who is going through financial hardship, or whether it’s a tenant with special needs that needs some clarity, whatever it is, or whether it is settling some dispute between two tenants or trying to resolve some of the issues or problems, whatever it is, it is hard not to be inspired by residents, regardless of where they are coming from, what their needs are, it’s really hard not to be inspired. I see it every day.”
These experiences have helped Katayoon develop her definition of mercy: “The word mercy for me means to accept people unconditionally and treat them with integrity and dignity.”
In honor of the Jubilee of Mercy that Pope Francis has called, the Sisters of Mercy have been highlighting people who make mercy a part of their day. They have recently featured Katayoon’s story on their website. Visit their website to read more stories!