Communities Unlimited (CU) will celebrate the second anniversary of the Nuestra Casa Loan Program on July 13, 2024, at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Center in Weslaco, Texas. This program supports residents of Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and now Willacy counties in South Texas.

Under the leadership of Michael Rivera, the first Director of Nuestra Casa, the program flourished since its start in 2022, providing over 200 home improvement loans in its first year. This milestone marks a significant achievement in CU’s mission to uplift and empower the colonial communities of South Texas.

Rivera played a key role in expanding the program, which offers low-interest loans for essential home improvements in underserved areas. In January 2024, he became CU’s Director of Lending, and Ashley Torres now leads the program as the primary Loan Officer.

“We are thrilled to celebrate the second anniversary of the Nuestra Casa Program and proud of our achievements in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and now Willacy counties,” Rivera said. “It’s exciting to see Ashley lead the program and take it to new heights.”

"Our goal is to make a real difference in the lives of colonial residents. This milestone reflects our commitment to the communities we serve, and we look forward to continuing this vital work in South Texas.”

Michael Rivera

— Michael Rivera, Director of Lending at Communities Unlimited

Torres joined CU through the UTRGV Work Study program in February 2023. She advanced from a work-study assistant to a full-time role and then to the program’s leading Loan Officer, demonstrating her dedication and CU’s supportive environment.

“I started through the work-study program at the local university in Brownsville,” Torres said. “I applied for the loan assistant position and worked a few hours a week. My background in social work and loan companies helped me understand both the community and loan aspects. I liked CU’s work and decided to pursue a permanent position here.”

Torres’ role has grown significantly since she started. Initially, she supported Rivera with collections and paperwork while he handled public interactions. Over time, she took on a more prominent role, directly engaging with customers and guiding them through the loan process.

"It's been a different experience, talking to customers and helping them get the repairs they need for their homes. Michael helped me see that it's not just about credit reports or income. You need to understand who the customer is because it's not black and white."

Ashley Torres

— Ashley Torres, Nuestra Casa Loan Officer

The Nuestra Casa Program offers $2,500 loans at an 8% interest rate, specifically for colonia residents who often can’t access traditional financial services due to their socio-economic status or lack of social security numbers.

This program is a lifeline for families needing urgent home repairs, like roof replacements due to flood damage, which is common in the region.

“Our program steps up and helps them do things that they couldn’t do with any other source,” Torres said.

One of the biggest challenges Torres faces is building trust within the community.

“The culture down here is not trusting when it comes to banking and finance, especially for people without social security numbers or ITINs (Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers),” she noted. “It’s about building those relationships and letting people know that this program is for them.”

Despite these challenges, the Nuestra Casa Program has had a clear impact. Beneficiary Rosa Torres expressed her gratitude and the positive changes it has brought to her life.

As the Nuestra Casa Program celebrates its second anniversary, the CU team is committed to expanding its reach. The upcoming celebration will honor past achievements and raise awareness about the program’s benefits.

“Even if you don’t have a loan or don’t know what it’s about, come get information for yourself or any family member who needs to do repairs in their homes,” Ashley Torres said.