Habitat for Humanity Builds a Two-Family House in Lawrence




Photo by Zoe Issac

Habitat for Humanity builds a modern two-family house in Lawrence during the annual National Builders Blitz event.

On Monday morning, the property on the corner of Acton and Washington Streets in Lawrence was just an empty lot. By Wednesday, it was an active construction site. And come Saturday, it was a home.

“The dream has become reality,” says Dieudonné Kankolongo, owner and soon-to-be resident of one of the two units erected on the spot. “I didn't imagine in five days they could do such things.”

Kankolongo’s dream was brought to life as part of a week-long construction extravaganza known as the Home Builders Blitz, a national Habitat for Humanity event during which more than 200 homes are built across the country in just one week. In Lawrence, Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity collaborated with a team of seven local building firms, dozens of contributing area businesses, and hundreds of volunteers to construct a pair of duplex houses.

“It’s been an unbelievable week," says Steve Howell, chairman of the event and owner of Lawrence-based Howell Custom Building Group.

The team completed a two-story building covered in gray vinyl siding reminiscent of the clapboards that are common in the surrounding residential neighborhood. In front, the building is ringed by green lawn—the sod was laid Saturday morning as a finishing touch. Young shrubs were also part of the planting, and two back doors open onto a small, grassy yard.

Inside, each 1,300-square-foot unit includes a kitchen, a living room, one and a half baths, and three bedrooms. The incoming homeowners chose their own finishes for cabinets, flooring, and countertops. The options were basic, but high quality, says Gary Moffie, owner of The Remodeling Company in Beverly. “The philosophy is to put the same effort and quality into the finish as we would on any project.”

Among the volunteers were Peter Souhleris and Dave Seymour, the stars of the A&E show Flipping Boston, who stopped in for a few hours of work on Wednesday.

“If you can help out, you gotta help out,” Souhleris says. The future occupants of the homes also worked alongside the professionals and other volunteers throughout the week. On Saturday morning, they were among the crews shoveling and sweeping, clearing away the last bits of debris from the site.

All Habitat for Humanity homeowners make between 25 and 50 percent of the median household income for the area. In Lawrence, that means $22,000 to $44,000 for a family of four, according to Merrimack Valley Habitat, which finances the homes with a zero-interest mortgage, so buyers get an affordable new home, but are still building equity, credit, and the pride of home ownership.

Kankolongo will live in one unit with wife and five children, ages 12 through 21. They currently live just around the corner in a fourth floor rental and look forward to having fewer stairs to climb and a yard to enjoy. Their next door neighbors will be current Chelsea residents Kiriza Zihalirwa, Bora Kafarhire, and their five children, who range from one-year-old twins to 10 years old. Though Zihalirwa works in Boston, he is not worried about having a longer drive.

"The commute is worth it to have this house," he says.

To get the houses up in such a short time required careful coordination and nine months of planning. The core team of Howell Custom Building Group, Cote & Foster, JSR Adaptive Energy Solutions, Lavallee Plumbing and Heating, Red Phoenix Construction, The Remodeling Company, and Steeplechase Builders each took ownership of one aspect of construction. The walls, floors, and roof were all pre-framed off site and lowered into place with a crane on the first day of construction.

"We hope we’ve planted a seed in this neighborhood that will help rejuvenate things," Howell says. habitat.org/events/homebuildersblitz

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