Hilton Head to consider giving 14 acres to Habitat for affordable housing

October 17, 2010 

Town of Hilton Island officials hope to provide more affordable housing by donating land off Marshland Road to Habitat for Humanity.

The town might give the group 14 acres between Leg O Mutton Road and Mathews Drive, where 20 to 40 homes could be built.

"This project would be the most substantive effort by the town to provide affordable housing on the island," said Pat Wirth, president and CEO of Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity. "We are very thankful and fortunate for their generosity."

The town Public Facilities Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of the deal during its meeting Oct. 4, which, coincidentally, was United Nations World Habitat Day.

The Town Council will take up the issue during its meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at Town Hall.

Construction on the homes probably would not start for at least a year.

Through the years, the town and Habitat have discussed ways to bring more affordable housing to the island, but for a variety of reasons it hasn't happened, said town manager Steve Riley.

Habitat built two homes on the island in 1996 and 2000, but land prices forced the nonprofit organization to focus most of its efforts in Bluffton, where land has been donated, Wirth said.

The town purchased the land off Marshland Road in 2001 for about $1 million from the estate of Alexander Patterson. The land was one of several marshfront properties purchased by the town for neighborhood parks, but enthusiasm for that effort has waned, Riley said.

The town also acquired right-of-way to serve that land and adjoining private property that would be part of the yet-to-be-built subdivision.

As part of the deal, Habitat would pay to build a road and bring utilities to the site, which will benefit other residents.

Wirth said Habitat plans to seek state and federal grants to pay for the road and utilities, which could cost more than $1 million.

"The town has not been interested in participating in the cost of constructing this ronce we have no intention of building on our property," Riley said. "The other property owners are not keen on incurring the costs for a road, particularly when the largest landowner -- the town -- will not be a participant."

Property owners in the area have been receptive to the idea during meetings with town staff, because of Habitat's reputation and the benefits of receiving a paved road and utilities, Riley said.

The 10 lots Habitat would acquire are zoned to allow four homes per acre, but because the land includes wetland, the Army Corps of Engineers might insist the density be reduced.

"We want a walkable, lovely community," Wirth said. "It's not about packing in as many houses as can be built there."

The project would address a long-standing and pressing need for affordable housing for low-income families on the resort island, Wirth said.

"There are many people who work on Hilton Head in the service and hospitality industry who are living in Hampton County and making long commutes, because they can't find affordable housing on the island," she said.

Eligible families must have an income between 30 and 60 percent of the area's median income -- about $30,000 for a family of four.

"You have no hope of finding a decent place on Hilton Head," Wirth said. "Having mom and dad closer to work makes life easier for the whole family. Home ownership provides stability. Parents do better as employees and children do better in school."

Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity has a waiting list of 12 families seeking approval for home ownership. Getting a house, though, takes about a year, Wirth said. Eligible homeowners must invest hundreds of hours of labor building their Habitat house and houses for others, attend homebuyer workshops and demonstrate they can repay a loan. Habitat uses the monthly mortgage payments its receives to build more houses.

"This is a huge step forward for life on the island -- reaching out and offering a hand up, and not a hand out," Wirth said.

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