EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 26, 2013

Former convent being turned into Habitat for Humanity condos

By Yadira Betances

---- — LAWRENCE — Few things make Jose Arache happier than when he gets up on a ladder to do framing, put up insulation, walls and ceilings.

Arache is helping build a home for he and his son, Tighe, 2. He is one of 10 families who will occupy condominiums being built into the former St. Patrick convent by Habitat for Humanity of Merrimack Valley. A second family was also selected.

“This is what we all want as immigrants to achieve the American dream,” said Arache, who rents a room where he lives with Tighe. “Working with others in building the house makes me proud that I will not only have a safe place to live, but I played a role in it.”

On May 8, Arache and other volunteers were joined by 20 women participating in the annual “WomenBuild” at 100 Parker St. Women Build is a partnership between Habitat for Humanity and Lowe’s.

The women came from Lawrence, Andover, Methuen, Haverhill, Newburyport and Arlington. There were also employees from Lowes Home Improvement, Al Catel-Lucent, a telecommunications equipment company in North Andover, Mersen of Newburyport, manufacturers of electrical equipment. Seven members of the book club on the Golden Oaks neighborhood in Andover provided lunch.

Among those participating in Women Build was Nancy LaPlante of Newbury.

“I think it’s important to give back to the community and help people who cannot do it for themselves,” LaPlante said. “I’m glad he can have the opportunity to have his own place.”

Kay O’Neil of Andover also volunteered during Women Build.

“This is an organization working with families to change their lives,” O’Neil said. “This is not only an investment of money and energy, but of heart. It provides a sense of hope for the families.”

Emerson Dahmen, building director for Habitat for Humanity said the project is well underway.

Framing for seven of the 10 units has been done and some of the windows have been installed. The exterior has been painted and fire escape stairs are done. There will be acoustical separation between each unit, the floors have been insulated and 6-inch foam board insulation was placed between the exterior and interior of the building to save energy.

“This is a wonderful project especially because we’re saving an old building,” Dahmen said. “It’s an exciting combination of the old and the new.”

Habitat purchased the convent at 100 Parker St., from the Archdiocese of Boston for $300,000. The facade of the 16,469-foot red brick building with white trim, will remain and much of the wood will be reused. The inside of the 102-year-old building will be converted into one , two-bedroom apartment and nine, three-bedroom units. There will be common areas for use of all residents.

“It’s a challange to stay on schedule because we need volunteers,” director of development Sharon Mason said.

Each residence will be sold at cost to low-income families participating in Habitat for Humanity’s partner family program. Arache is getting more than a place to live for his family. His partner family is Scott and Catie Hubley along with their son, Dann. When Scott Hubley found out Arache is studying electrical engineering, he got him an intership at Sensitech in Beverly where he works.

The average home costs $115,000 to build. Habitat families purchase their homes for the out-of-pocket cost of construction with a no-interest mortgage held by Habitat. The organization finances them with a 20, 25 or 30 year mortgages at no interest. Habitat homeowners earn between 25 percent and 50 percent of the area median income - for a family of four, that means $22,000 to $44,000.

Roxanna Matos, who purchased a home through Habitat, is now Family Service Coordinator for the agency helping families go through the application process.

The convent had been vacant since 2006, and although Habitat became interested in it when it was first on the market, someone made an offer first. When that deal fell through, Habitat made another offer.

Habitat has two work days when volunteers donate labor and materials, as well as architectural, legal, and energy-consulting services, Mason said.

Building the 10 units is the biggest project done by Habitat in Greater Lawrence and Haverhill since its founding in 1985. Since then, they have built 69 homes and have 14 home constructions underway.

“It’s a lot of work but at the end it will be worth it because it belongs to you and you put a lot of time, work and effort in it,” Arache said.

How to apply for a Habitat home:

Attend an information meeting by calling Roxanna at 978-681-8858 to register.

Participate in all Habitat home educational workshops.

Contribute between 240 and 360 “sweat equity hours” in working on building their home.

Pay closing costs estimated to be about $2,400.

Participate in the management of a condominium association where applicable