Many nights, Ana Johnson gets asked the question, and most nights she gives the same pained response: "No."
The question: "Mommy, will you stay with me tonight?"
The single mother of two and native of Costa Rica works two jobs to provide for her girls, ages 10 and 12. During the day, she works in customer service at Publix grocery store on Hilton Head Island, plus a couple of nights a week at Alexander's Seafood Restaurant & Wine Bar.
But she made her girls a promise -- things will get better. No more living paycheck to paycheck. No more cramped two-bedroom apartment. And fewer nights away.
This summer Johnson will get to deliver on her promise, thanks to Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity.
The nonprofit organization will break ground Tuesday on land donated by the Town of Hilton Head Island in 2010 to build The Glen -- the Habitat affiliate's first affordable-housing development on the island.
Ten families have been approved to purchase homes in The Glen; Johnson among them. Habitat plans to build an initial 16 homes. Another 20 to 25 homes could be built later, Wirth said.
Families buy the houses from Habitat for about $70,000, with 30-year, no-interest mortgages. Monthly payments are about $400, affordable for someone making $10 to $12 an hour in the service industry, affiliate president and CEO Pat Wirth said.
"Children become better students when they have a decent, simple, stable, secure place to live, and parents become better workers," Wirth said. "That combines to make a stronger community and helps break the cycle of poverty."
Approved owners must complete 20 hours of homeownership classes and contribute volunteer work on the project.
For Johnson, homeownership means more than having extra space and comfort. It means financial stability and a chance for her family to thrive.
The mortgage payment is about half of her current rent.
"When I have the house, I can spend more time with my girls and not have to work so hard," Johnson said. "I can cut back to one job and be able to save for emergencies and my girls' education. They want more time with their mother, and it gives me so many more opportunities for my life. I want to study and do so many things I don't have the time or luxury to do now."
Hilton Head might be associated with expensive homes in gated communities, but its economy relies heavily on tourism and hospitality workers. Those jobs are among the lowest-paid in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly half of the students attending Hilton Head's public schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches -- a widely accepted measurement of poverty, according to the S.C. Department of Education.
Wirth said home construction will begin in July, as soon as a road and utilities are extended to The Glen, which is between Leg O' Mutton Road and Mathews Drive.
Habitat hopes to complete about five homes a year during the next three years. Money has been secured to build two homes, and private groups have agreed to sponsor five more, Wirth said.
Houses are built with volunteer labor and tax-deductible donations of money and materials, with professionals providing project oversight.
"Hilton Head is such a wonderful place to live and visit, but people lose sight of the people who make it wonderful," those working in the service and hospitality industries, Wirth said.
Locally, Habitat has completed 92 houses, most of them in Brendan Woods in Bluffton.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.
- A sample floor plan of a home to be built in The Glen
- Hilton Head Habitat for Humanity project moving forward: April 17, 2013
- A dream realized: Low-income families weep, rejoice at Habitat ribbon cutting: Oct. 14, 2011
- Hilton Head land swap with Habitat for Humanity draws complaints: Oct. 19, 2010
- Hilton Head Regional Habitate for Humanity