January 2022 – The Andovers Magazine

Homes will soon be filled on Stott Circle in Andover. This past fall, two families moved into the first of three affordable duplexes off Lupine Road that were built in conjunction with Andover Community Trust and Essex County Habitat for Humanity. The four remaining homes — two duplexes — are set to be completed in the coming months.

“This is the biggest project we’ve done,” says Denise Johnson, executive director of Andover Community Trust. “It’s helped to have Habitat because they have a lot of the resources. But we’ve also worked well in partnership with them navigating the local planning and zoning permitting process. Overall, it’s worked out well.”

Stott Circle was recently renamed for Susan Stott, the founder of Andover Community Trust. She got the idea for the trust in 1990 after attending the National Community Land Trust Conference, which taught her about creating affordable housing. Soon, the organization will have 13 affordable homes in town, with families set to move into the four currently under construction by this spring.

Stott worked with her late friend Margot Bixby, who helped found Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity in 1984. Bixby, a longtime Andover resident, died in 2019 at age 83.

“When I went to Margot to ask about how she started it to give me advice for starting the trust, she said, ‘I’ve always wanted to have a Habitat home in Andover,’” Stott says. “It’s her dream come true — a dream of over 30 years in the making.”

One of the remaining duplexes was also created in partnership with Essex County Habitat for Humanity and the other with students at Greater Lawrence Technical School.

Andover Community Trust has had a longtime partnership with Greater Lawrence Tech students working on the homes.

And while the pandemic created multiple barriers to building the homes, it did allow three years of students to get hands-on experience, Johnson says.

More than 100 juniors and seniors from Greater Lawrence Tech’s carpentry, electrical, plumbing and HVAC programs worked on the project.

During the first year, students and instructors completed the first-floor framing of the duplex. During the next school year, from 2019 to 2020, they framed the house and prepped for the roof.

“It has also taught us valuable lessons in communication, problem-solving and life lessons,” says Emilio Cardona, a junior from North Andover in the carpentry program.

Home sweet homes

In September, single mothers Amarilys Zayas and Michelle Tejada became the first to move their families into Stott Circle.

They are both most excited to provide their kids with permanent homes that will set them up for good futures.

“We achieved the dream to give our children a better future and a community,” Zayas says.

All of the units on Stott Circle will be permanently affordable for people making less than 60% of the average median income.

Zayas and Tejada each bought their homes for $185,000 and 350 hours of sweat equity working on the property alongside volunteers. The duplexes bring more accessible options for homeownership to a town where the typical house costs $790,754, according to Zillow.

“I feel very good to live in Andover, especially with the school system — I love it because they encourage the kids to progress more,” Tejada says.

The first thing that Zayas did is sign her 6-year-old twin boys up for soccer. It was harder to find them a team in Lawrence that worked with their schedules, she says. Tejada’s teenage sons are already playing football, and her 7-year-old daughter was already at the YMCA right after moving in.

Now Zayas’ and Tejada’s families will each get to live out their dreams with Andover as their home bases.

Zayas’ children are especially excited about having a yard to run around in. They even have stepped up to use their savings to help their mom buy a microwave for their new home, she says.

It takes a village

Essex County Habitat for Humanity was officially formed last year with the merger of the former Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity and North Shore Habitat for Humanity. Pooling resources allows the nonprofit to help more people, Executive Director Meegan O’Neil says.

“We are really a partnership organization that brings together the communities we help to get resources, build and create the local solution to the affordable housing issue,” O’Neil says.

“The best thing about these homes is that they are permanently affordable because of deed restrictions,” says Richard Sumberg, chairman of the board of directors for the Habitat chapter. “People will be living in and buying these homes for decades, and we need a lot more of them than we could ever build, but we will try like hell.”

Currently, the organization has 11 houses under construction with a project to add 10 more in the spring, Sumberg says.

In Andover, community partnerships laid the foundation for these homes. The land was donated by South Church, which was gifted the 1-acre parcel in the 1940s.

It wasn’t until about five years ago that the congregants decided to use it for affordable housing, the Rev. Dana Walsh says.

“We hoped this plot of land could be more than grass and trees,” she says. “Holding onto this seed of hope, we were able to make this crazy thing happen. We never had foreseen six families being able to live here.”

Providing safe homes and creating affordable homeownership opportunities helps further the church’s mission to create a more equitable and just society, Walsh says.

Adding affordable housing is one important step in helping diversify the community, Johnson says. Of the six new homes, one will be for a family originally from Andover, while another family is from Methuen and four families are from Lawrence, she says.

“We are excited about the momentum behind this project, and we’re hoping to build on that in the really near future,” she says. “There will be a lot happening in the next year.”

While she says she can’t give too many details yet, there are two letters of intent for projects, including “another single- family or duplex and one much larger project.”

“It’s exciting to see what we’ve done and where we are headed,” Johnson says.