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HABITAT FOR HUMANITY FULL SPEED AHEAD AT THE GLEN

Carolina Ramirez usually has a smile on her face, and she giggled when she said, “We’re calling this ‘the waiting house.’”

Her home at Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity’s The Glen neighborhood is months behind schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she and her three kids never lost hope that they’d soon be living under their own roof. Now their dream of homeownership is becoming reality: The family will move in this month.

Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity executive director Brenda Dooley said that volunteers are back on the job site off Marshland Road after a two-month hiatus, but in fewer numbers to allow for social distancing. Dooley replaces Pat Wirth, who retired as executive director July 1 after almost 20 years with the Habitat for Humanity affiliate.

“Our regular volunteers came back as soon as we told them they could,” Dooley said. “They responded to my email in five minutes.”

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization seeking to eliminate substandard housing and homelessness, and to break the cycle of poverty fostered by inadequate housing. The Glen is being constructed on 14 acres of land donated by the Town of Hilton Head Island and is Habitat’s first neighborhood on the island.

Progress on the neighborhood’s second phase of 16 houses slowed but didn’t stop during the coronavirus shut down because the nonprofit group hired a construction company to work on Ramirez’s home, as well as three others. The group didn’t want the unfinished homes to be damaged by wet weather. 

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Like many other nonprofit groups, Hilton Head Habitat was hit hard financially by the pandemic — when its ReStore thrift shop in Bluffton was forced to close temporarily, the group lost the income the store generates. Having to hire the construction company was an unexpected cost, and the nonprofit group’s staff scrambled to apply for COVID-19 related grants and appeal to donors.

“Luckily, our donors came through for us,” Dooley said, adding that Habitat received pandemic-specific grants from Community Foundation of the Lowcountry and Wells Fargo, among others.

Some of the 16 homeowners in the neighborhood’s second phase — chosen through a rigorous selection process from hundreds of applicants — also were furloughed or laid off from their jobs during March and April, leaving the Habitat staff worried about their ability to qualify for and make payments on the zero-interest, 30-year mortgages that Habitat for Humanity International provides. 

Ramirez, who is a caregiver for the elderly and cleans houses, was out of work for a while during the pandemic, but soon found a new patient to care for. She wasn’t going to let the chance to own her own home — a dream she has nurtured since moving to Hilton Head from her native El Salvador 18 years ago — slip through her hands.

“I’m paying $1,200 a month in rent now,” she said. “When we move into our home, my payment will be less than half that. I am so grateful to the sponsors and volunteers.”

Her $500 monthly mortgage payment will include taxes, insurance and common area maintenance. 

Ramirez and the other homeowners contribute hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” to help construct their homes and others in the community. They also attend 20 hours of homeownership classes about budgeting, home maintenance, insurance, how to be a good neighbor and other topics.

Habitat has provided housing for about 110 families over the past 25 years in Bluffton and Ridgeland and on Hilton Head. Families who are chosen for the homes earn between $20,000 and $40,000 a year, said Jeff Cooper, family services coordinator for Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity. 

Each house at The Glen is sponsored by one or more local groups, such as a church or community, and the sponsor s raise the approximately $75,000 needed to build the home. 

Six homes in The Glen’s second phase still need sponsors, Cooper said. 

habitatWHERE TO NEXT?

The 16 homeowners for Phase 2 of The Glen have already been chosen. Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity needs land for its next neighborhoods of affordable housing on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton and Jasper County. 

To donate, volunteer or learn about homeownership, contact Brenda Dooley at brendadooley@habitathhi.org.