Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring a long-time issue to everyone’s attention. The need for affordable, attainable workforce housing on Hilton Head Island and the broader Lowcountry region isn’t new. But a recent crisis has certainly brought a whole new focus on the matter.

A safe, decent place to live, whether owned or rented, is a basic need for everyone. A vibrant community that is widely recognized as a top vacation destination needs to provide a diverse range of housing for its service industry, teachers, healthcare providers, law enforcement and other vital workers.

Residents, as well as tourists, suffer when employers can’t fill positions. The whole community suffers when too many residents are living in unsafe, unaffordable housing conditions.

Since the start of the pandemic, an already-challenging situation has grown. The cost of homeownership has gone up, while available inventory has gone down.

As people are priced out of homeownership, the cost of rent has climbed out of reach for many. A standard measurement of what a family should pay for housing is no more than 30 percent of their total income. Too many families now are paying close to half or more of their income for housing—and often still living in unsafe or overcrowded situations.

When so much goes to housing, there’s little left for transportation, healthcare, groceries and debt reduction and no chance of preparing for unexpected emergencies. Many are left one flat tire away from disaster. There’s no doubt they are struggling. Families live in fear their rent will go up past the point of their ability to pay, and we hear often about rents that have doubled or even tripled.

Our mission at Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity is to bring people together to build homes, communities and hope. Since 1990, through the generosity of donors and volunteers, we’ve helped 124 families realize the dream of owning their own homes. Studies show homeownership benefits a family in many ways in addition to the financial aspect. Children do better in school and go on to higher education at a higher rate. Parents are more involved in their children’s education and in their community. Habitat for Humanity’s program helps families build strength, stability and self-reliance through housing.

The town of Hilton Head Island recognized this need back in 2011 when they made a commitment to increasing the availability of affordable housing by providing 14 acres to Habitat for Humanity. The community, known as The Glen, is almost built out now, providing the opportunity of homeownership for 32 hard-working families.

Town Council continues to look for ways to address the issue with the Northpointe private/public development partnership, the recent approval of a workforce housing framework and agreeing to participate with seven other local municipalities to create a regional housing trust fund.

New focus has brought new hope. Families in need of housing they can afford should feel encouraged by these recent events. Habitat for Humanity staff, donors and volunteers will continue to advocate and work on their behalf.

Brenda Dooley is Executive Director of Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity