Habitat for Humanity's first neighborhood on Hilton Head Island will mean a solid roof over the heads of a number of families and a major milestone for the community at-large.
Ground was broken two weeks ago, and construction is to begin this week on the third home in The Glen neighborhood off Marshland Road.
It is a milestone because people scoffed at the idea of Habitat for Humanity being needed on "posh" Hilton Head when volunteers created the local chapter in 1990.
As Mayor David Bennett pointed out at the dedication ceremony: "Personally, it is an affront to me that our world-renowned community ... known for its magnificent beachfront homes, golf courses and gated communities, masks dirt roads and the lack of sanitary sewer for many residents, as well as the fact that more than 40 percent of its children attending our island public schools qualify for reduced or free lunches."
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The first phase of the new neighborhood will have 16 homes, all of which are spoken for by hard-working applicants. It could eventually hold some 50 homes.
This would not be possible without many helpers, most importantly the Town of Hilton Head Island. Former mayor Tom Peeples suggested the 14-acre site as perfect for a Habitat community, and the town donated the land on the condition that Habitat pay for the roads and utilities needed.
Affordable housing is addressed in a variety of ways. Most notably, it has been addressed for years with well-meaning studies and a variety of public and private jabs at it.
Habitat for Humanity stands out as a proven solution, with 1 million homes built worldwide since 1976. Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity covering southern Beaufort County and Jasper County has now built 92 homes, with only three foreclosures.
People might not understand that, as local executive director Pat Wirth says, "We don't give anything away except for opportunity."
Habitat homeowners put in 300 to 400 hours of "sweat equity" and attend 20 hours of classes on home-ownership (mostly about budgeting). If they qualify, they move in with a 30-year mortgage with 0 percent interest. They pay for their homes.
Scores of local volunteers and donors are the backbone of Habitat.
For example, residents of Colleton River Plantation have given more than $100,000 to Habitat and are now constructing their 10th home. Another home is under construction in The Glen by the Noon Rotary Club, and the Hilton Head Association of Realtors is to start its eighth home this week. Oldfield Plantation residents will soon start their seventh or eighth home. All Saints Episcopal Church will soon begin a home in conjunction with St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Previously, All Saints built a home with its neighbor Congregation Beth Yam, to be occupied by a Catholic family.
Together, we can whittle away at the "unseen" Hilton Head the mayor speaks of, and together we can build a better community.