Habitat for Humanity a model that works well

A Habitat for Humanity community is complete after 12 years of hard work near Old Town Bluffton. The 62nd unit -- a 1,040-square-foot, three bedroom house in Brendan Woods, built almost entirely by volunteers -- was completed Sept. 12 and turned over to new owner Anita Fox and her two children.

Congratulations are in order to both the organization and to Fox, who paid for the home, in part, with "sweat equity." A community thanks also is owed to the many local organizations and individuals who collectively rolled up their sleeves and voluntarily helped build the homes.

Habitat has a model that works. Its Brendan Woods homes are similar in design and between 900 and 1,200 square feet. Its home prices never exceed $70,000. Recipients are required to contribute to the Habitat cause, if not construction of their own homes. And Habitat holds the 30-year, no-interest mortgage for each property.

Filling 62 units -- and a community need -- invites both celebration and comparison to a nearby affordable-housing project that hasn't gone nearly so well.

In contrast to Brendan Woods is the town of Bluffton's Wharf Street project. Six nice homes have been built, but they remain empty more than two years after Bluffton learned it would receive a federal grant that would fund a little more than half of the $1.2 million project.

And it's not just Wharf Street's proximity to Brendan Woods, less than a mile away, that invites the comparison. Habitat initially worked with Bluffton on its project but backed out because of concerns the town would miss a May 15, 2011, deadline to complete construction and that the finished products would not be all that affordable.

How prophetic.

The smallest of the six Wharf Street cottages, a 770-square-foot, two-bedroom home, also carries the smallest price tag -- $105,000, at least $35,000 more than the larger home sold to Fox.

Construction wasn't completed until more than a half year after the initial May 2011 deadline, and town predictions about owner interest, owner eligibility and move-in dates have proven woefully off their marks.

Bluffton did finally hold a lottery Aug. 30 to determine the order in which the first three potential buyers can select their homes. However, apropos of this process, those candidates still had not been pre-approved for mortgages, and their eligibility -- let alone their move-in dates -- remained uncertain.

Moreover, even if the town were credited for the three units that might be sold as a result of its lottery, at this snail's pace, it would be late May 2071 before Bluffton could fill 62 units that Habitat filled in 12 years.

Of course, we're not suggesting the town of Bluffton try to fill 62 units.

We're suggesting it stop at six and let subsequent affordable-housing efforts be directed by organizations with a better track record.