Harrington Kicks Off CommServ Speaker Series

Commencing this years’ public service speaker series, Head of the Greater Lawrence Habitat for Humanity Stephanie Harrington hosted a round table discussion last Thursday on the availability of affordable housing. Ms. Harrington said that Habitat for Humanity’s immediate goal is to reach the capacity to construct 10 homes each year, or a total of 50 homes over the next five years. In the long term, she hopes that through the work of volunteers, Habitat will be able to eliminate “poverty housing” and establish stable communities for low-income families and individuals. Pointing to difficulties created in the past by large-scale housing projects, Ms. Harrington emphasized that Habitat works with the community to establish safe and stable neighborhoods for its recipients. “Affordable housing works best when it is integrated into the neighborhoods,” she said. “People living in the neighborhoods know best what they need.” With this approach, Ms. Harrington hopes that the organization will benefit not only the housing recipients, but also the communities as a whole. “Neighborhoods dominated by public housing have created challenges…A goal for Lawrence is to revitalize these neighborhoods,” she said. Ms. Harrington also discussed Habitat’s attempts to involve the homeowner in the house building process. “We require that families partner with us,” she said. “We ask them to contribute 500 hours to building the home – in place of a down payment. … Families become invested in their home and have a better sense of how to maintain it.” This partnership of volunteers and homeowners is a central aspect of the program that has been essential to its success and growth throughout the years, said Ms. Harrington. Ms. Harrington said that the primary difference between Habitat housing and public “poverty housing is that Habitat housing creates a comfortable environment where people can focus on advancing their lives and careers. “We are propelling families into the middle class, where they’re homeowners and are even receiving equity on their homes,” she said. “We’re moving people that would be in public or substandard housing into a safe, affordable, decent home.” Ms. Harrington said that in recent years, Habitat has begun to organize projects outside of Lawrence, including a current home that they are working on in Haverhill. She also said that Habitat is looking into the possibility of working in Andover, North Andover, and Boxford. In these more affluent neighborhoods, though, Habitat often faces a challenge in addressing the many concerns raised by residents of the community – including fears of the potential affects of Habitat housing on schools and property values. Ms. Harrington, however, feels that the careful screening process used by Habitat, combined with their careful integration of the houses into the neighborhoods, helps to ensure that Habitat housing only improves the neighborhoods in which it works.