In late February, Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity (MVHH) celebrated a monumental achievement: the long-awaited completion of a 10-home building on Parker Street in Lawrence. “This was one of the most challenging and most gratifying projects to date,” says MVHH executive director Randy Larson. The Parker Street building, a 100-year-old structure formerly known as St. Patrick’s Convent, deviated from the typical Habitat projects, which normally involve building a single home or duplex on a vacant lot. “We purchased the building in 2008 and began renovations,” explains Larson. “There was a good deal or prep work before we could start construction, and throughout the project volunteers worked on more demolition than we usually find in our projects. Our volunteers are incredible,” Larson adds. “We have an amazing diversity in the skill levels and backgrounds of volunteer groups, and everyone does their part, either large or small.”
While a few architectural and structural surprises led some project delays, the result speaks for itself: ten families received keys to their condos on February 26. The units, primarily three-bedroom homes consisting of 1,100 to 1,200 square feet, offer local families a chance at homeownership they may not have experienced otherwise. “The families are an active part of the process from beginning to end,” says Larson. “Each family put in 350 sweat-equity hours into the home and saved money for closing costs and building upkeep. The first Parker Street families were selected over four years ago, and we gradually chose others throughout the process.” Each family had the opportunity to customize their living space by choosing details like countertops, flooring, and plumbing fixtures.
As homeowners, the families will form a condo association and elect trustees to make decisions for the building. “The value of homeownership, of choice and agency, can’t be overstated,” says Larson. “It has a positive impact on children, education, and employment among family members. Owning a home is a stabilizing factor, especially for young people who need space to study, learn, and grow. It’s a significant boost to the self-esteem of an entire family, and it motivates people to become active in the community.”
Habitat projects have a history of inspiring growth in neighborhoods as well, and Parker Street is no exception. “It’s not just that we’re putting ten tax-paying families into the community,” explains Larson. “These homes are an opportunity to further stabilize the neighborhood. Habitat project stimulate other projects, and the homes we build are often some of the best-kept in the area, because families raise funds for upkeep before moving in.”
As a positive force in local communities, MVHH has received support in kind from a wide-range of benefactors and organizations since its creation in 1985. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, MVHH will honor supporters, including long-time donors the Torrisi Family, owners of Jackson Lumber. On May 21 from 6 to 10 p.m., the public is invited to join MVHH in the Warehouse at Jackson Lumber for a festive celebration sponsored by Watts Water Technologies, Northshore Home magazine, and Charles River Laboratories. The evening will feature live music, locally-sourced foods, craft cocktails, and a live and silent auction to benefit future MVHH projects. For more information or to purchase tickets to the event, visit bidpal.net/buildingdreams30yearcelebration.