October 30, 2023 – Eagle Tribune

NORTH ANDOVER — The Housing Authority heard on Thursday from the Essex County Habitat for Humanity in regard to the Fountain Drive property in North Andover, with hope of building six affordable housing units.

“We’ve been kicking around for quite some time what we can do there,” said Chairperson Tracey Watson. “It’s important to us that something with affordable housing happens there.”

In 2022, the Affordable Housing Trust, Community Preservation Committee and Housing Authority announced a partnership to create 12 units at Fountain Drive.

Now, Habitat for Humanity is looking to develop six homes at the average price of $220,000 for qualifying homeowners. The average monthly payment is $1,400 for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, and household income ranges from $34,000 to $103,000, according to Meegan O’Neil, executive director.

“You are not finding a house or even a condo for probably below $500,000 at this point,” O’Neil said. “Our home prices are incredibly affordable compared to what’s out there.”

For 70% of the potential six units at Fountain Drive, the state can opt to have a local preference for the homeowners chosen in Habitat for Humanity’s lottery, according to O’Neil. “Local” is dictated by where people work, live or go to school.

Homes are sold to the families, but O’Neil noted the families also partake in the construction part of the projects.

“We believe in the model of a hand-up rather than a handout,” O’Neil said. “Once they own that home, they own that home forever.”

O’Neil said program provides stability for homeowners, particularly in terms of worry around increased rent. Watson agreed, noting the value of equity for homeowners.

Families pay partially through “sweat equity,” volunteering time into the house’s construction rather than committing to a large down payment, O’Neil said. Single parents commit 240 hours of work, and families with two adults work for 360 hours.

If families decide that they would like to move, O’Neil said it is written into the deeds that the property must still remain affordable. If a family moves in to the property in 2023 and wants to sell it 10 years later, they are able to earn the inflation adjustment and sell the property at the affordable housing price at the time.

“That home will be forever deed restricted so that whoever purchases it always have to be at that 60% area median income,” O’Neil said.

Once a family owns the house, they are also able to earn more income.

The Essex County Habitat for Humanity, which was founded in 1985, has built 124 homes in the over 30 communities it serves. Almost 50 homes have been rehabbed as well.

O’Neil said everything the organization is building has aging in place and accessibility in mind.

One of the biggest holdups for the Housing Authority committee on Thursday seemed to be the fact that Habitat for Humanity solely does homeownership work rather than rental properties.

“Our mission as a Housing Authority is not homeownership,” Watson said.

O’Neil said Habitat for Humanity is having conversations with Ispwich’s Housing Authority and has done work in Danvers.

The Housing Authority in North Andover also has programs that prepare residents for homeownership. Watson said she saw that “marriage,” and that a resident from the family self-sufficiency program ended up in a Bread and Roses house.

“We’ve had that connection,” Watson said. “I’m not averse. I’m just putting it all out there.”

The organization has two homes in Lawrence, two in Haverhill, seven in Salisbury and 10 in Hamilton under construction.

The Housing Authority has 97% of its state properties occupied and 99% of federal properties as of Nov. 1.