September 1, 2021  Daily Item

LYNN — Vincent Gunning has lived in the home he inherited from his great aunt for a long time, but very soon, it’s going to look a lot different.

The Vietnam War Navy veteran’s Southside Avenue house is the first full rehab for Essex County Habitat for Humanity’s Aging in Place program, and will be renovated to be fully accessible, with a first-floor bedroom and handicap-accessible bathroom.

“It feels good,” said Gunning, who has a prosthetic leg that makes it difficult for him to go up and down stairs. “I’m looking forward to it being finished. There were a lot of problems.”

Gunning worked for two decades building and renovating bowling alleys when he returned from service, then another two decades working for the U.S. Postal Service. Throughout that time, he worked odd construction jobs, and even recalls fixing the roof of his current home more than 40 years ago with his father and brother. 

Over the years, though, the house fell into disrepair, especially after his leg was amputated at the hip due to a small injury that was left without proper treatment for too long. Now, the dilapidated structure is unsafe for him to live in, with rotting wood, curling linoleum tiles and a deteriorating bathroom on the second floor that is hard for him to get to.

Volunteers with Team Rubicon, a community service organization of veterans, began demolition on Saturday, stripping the inside of the home. 

“We had the dumpster full by 11:30 in the morning,” said Essex County Habitat board member Don Preston. 

Preston explained that the project began when Habitat was contacted by Neighborhood Legal Services in Lynn, which told them that Gunning’s home had been foreclosed on. They began work to stop the foreclosure and raise money for the rehab on the building, with help from Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development and St. Stephen’s Church.

Jacques Du Preez, Essex County Habitat spokesman, said that during the demolition, volunteers have found that parts of the home are still beautiful, and they hope to preserve those aspects. Hardwood floors previously covered by carpeting will be refinished, and they hope to restore the house to its former glory.

“It’s great that we can repair it but also leave some of that history in place,” he said. “It’ll still feel like his home like it did 40 years ago.”

Essex County Habitat Executive Director Meegan O’Neil explained that the organization’s Aging in Place program is designed to help seniors like Gunning.

“What you see across our region is that many low-income homeowners are really struggling to maintain their homes and to be able to make the modifications they need to live safely in them,” O’Neil said. “Our mission is all about affordable homeownership, and what we’ve realized is that one way to do that work is obviously to build new homes for families in need, but another piece of it is maintaining existing housing stock and helping older folks be able to stay in their homes.”

According to the larger Habitat for Humanity organization, around 19 million seniors live in inadequate housing and do not have the resources to make their homes livable.

While Habitat has been working for several years on the North Shore to make small improvements to these residents’ homes, like installing ramps or outfitting them with accessible bathrooms, O’Neil said that they are hoping to scale up the program over the next few years with projects like Gunning’s.

The project will include a new roof, updated electrical system, new front entry, accessible bathroom on the first floor and a fully-functioning kitchen. It is expected to cost more than $100,000, and will most likely be finished in November or December.

“It’s so unfortunate that our elderly and veterans suffer in this country, and we all have to do our part to make it better,” said Du Preez. “No one should be rotting away in their home that’s falling apart around them.”

For more information or to donate to the program, visit essexcountyhabitat.org/donate.

Spenser Hasak/Staff photo Daily Item