Hilton Head Habitat for Humanity project moving forward

bheffernan@islandpacket.comApril 17, 2013 

An organization seeking to build affordable homes on Hilton Head Island is nearing its fundraising goals, and work on a road and utility lines for a building site is expected to begin in July.

The Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity affiliate has raised about 90 percent of the $600,000 needed to extend and pave Alex Patterson Drive, off Marshland Road, and provide water and sewer service to The Glen -- 14 acres of undeveloped land between Leg O' Mutton Road and Mathews Drive. The town donated the land to Habitat in 2010.

The road and utilities will serve 16 homes the nonprofit agency plans and five homes already built along the road. Construction will likely to go out to bid in May and could begin by October, Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity CEO Pat Wirth said.

Habitat hopes to complete homes at a rate of two or three per year, Wirth said.

Each home already has been assigned to an approved family. How much money had been raised for the 16 new homes, separate from the amount raised for the road and utilities, was not immediately available on Wednesday, she said.

Habitat homes cost about $56 per square foot to build and are between 900 and 1,200 square feet. Families purchase the homes for about $67,000. Habitat does not make profits on the sales, Wirth said.

"They are simple, decent houses, but they are places that a family can survive and thrive," she said.

Construction is done mostly by volunteers, but professionals oversee the project, teach people how to use the equipment and assign tasks.

During the construction of Brenden Woods, a neighborhood in Bluffton where 62 Habitat homes were built between 2000 and 2012, Wirth said she met a doctor who joked that he could perform surgery on her liver but didn't know how to swing a hammer. The nonprofit organization welcomes the help of anyone willing to give it, she said.

After The Glen's first 16 homes are built, Habitat will begin raising money for a second cul-de-sac of houses in the rear corner of the plot, near wetlands. Wirth said 20 to 25 homes could be built, depending on what is allowed by permitting groups that include the S.C. Army Corps of Engineers, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the town.

Fundraising has been led by private donations from groups, such as the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry and area banks, as well as individuals, such as Bill Spadafora and his neighbors in Colleton River Plantation in greater Bluffton, who have raised about $135,000.

Spadafora said he has been involved in Habitat for nine years, spurred by the "psychic income" he receives from the work.

"I think all of us who have been fortunate need to give back," he said. "There is a tremendous need on the island for affordable housing and to have a whole Habitat community is (going to be) something great."

HIlton Head's need for affordable housing is more serious than meets the eye, said Rick Caporale, who is Hilton Head Regional Habitat's community outreach director and a Beaufort County councilman.

"We have an interesting community that is characterized by a lot of expensive, gated plantations, ... but at the same time, you have schools with kids on free and reduced lunches," he said

About 43 percent of students attending Hilton Head's public schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, according to Beaufort County School District spokesman Jim Foster.

Hilton Head's economy relies heavily on its tourism and hospitality workers, whose jobs are among the lowest-paid in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Where, exactly are they supposed to live?" Caporale said.

The families who move into the Habitat houses buy them from the nonproft group with 30-year, no-interest mortgages. Monthly payments are no more than $400, an amount that is affordable for someone making $20,000 annually in the service industry, Caporale said.

"It makes a decent life possible for a lot of people who otherwise would be living on the edge everyday."

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.

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