Beaufort News

Habitat for Humanity backs away from Bluffton housing project

The local branch of Habitat for Humanity has severed a partnership with the town of Bluffton on a grant-funded project to build six affordable cottages in old town.

Concerns about the May 15 grant deadline for the project's completion and the potential price of the homes led to the demise of the partnership, according to a news release Friday from Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity.

The affordable-housing project, long a town priority, is funded by a $700,000 federal Neighborhood Stabilization grant. Town officials said the project will be finished on time without Habitat as a partner.

Councilman Fred Hamilton said the town has repeatedly tried to assure Habitat the deadline for the grant, administered by the S.C. State Housing Finance and Development Authority, will be met. The town and state agency have been communicating well, he said.

He said promises and commitments have been made that make him confident the town can meet the deadline or get an extension if needed, he said.

Habitat's announcement arrives soon after the town received bids for six modular cottages. An event is planned Monday for demolition at the Wharf Street site where the cottages will be assembled.

Habitat had planned to help assemble the homes, select the families to live in them and raise additional money for the project. But the disagreement on the importance of getting a deadline extension means the two can't work together, Habitat executive director Pat Wirth said.

In addition, Wirth is concerned the price of building the homes would be out of range for Habitat-selected families.

Habitat sells its homes at zero profit and for no more than $70,000. The homeowners receive interest-free mortgages and pay no more than $400 a month for insurance, principal and taxes, Wirth said. Habitat homeowners also must invest 300 to 400 hours of sweat equity and take classes on home ownership.

"We wish them well and hope everything goes exactly as they hope it will," she said of the town. "We like to see families in houses whether we build them or not."

Town officials said they have not determined who will do the work Habitat would have performed.

Hamilton said they may borrow ideas from Habitat, adding he is confident the project will be completed and be a source of pride.