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To Trim Costs, Charlotte And Lake Norman Habitat Groups To Merge

Habitat Charlotte/Our Towns Habitat
Habitat Charlotte and Our Towns Habitat are merging.

The Habitat for Humanity affiliates in Charlotte and Lake Norman are merging, a move they say will save millions of dollars over the next decade and help them build or repair housing for more low-income families.

The merger of Habitat of Humanity Charlotte and Our Towns Habitat for Humanity in Cornelius will take effect Feb. 28. The combination will create the international organization's third largest affiliate, serving an area from Pineville to Statesville, said Charlotte Habitat CEO Laura Belcher, who will run the merged group. 

Laura Belcher of Habitat for Humanity Charlotte will be CEO of the combined group.
Credit Habitat for Humanity-Charlotte
Laura Belcher of Habitat for Humanity Charlotte will be CEO of the combined group.

"We've looked at the business model, and based on the efficiencies we think we can gain, and some buying power of increasing our production and our output, we think that over the next decade we will be able to invest $6 million in additional housing solutions," Belcher said in an interview.

Savings will come by eliminating duplicate costs, she said, such as having two databases, two annual audits and other overlapping administrative expenses. 

About 10 jobs will be lost in the combination, leaving the group with 175 employees, according to figures provided by the two organizations. Our Towns Habitat CEO Chris Ahearn will step aside after the merger.

The announcement comes amid a wave of mergers among Habitat affiliates around the country. Our Towns Habitat for Humanity led its own takeover of the Iredell County Habitat affiliate in 2014. Ahearn said Habitat affiliates are looking for ways to cut costs.  

Chris Ahearn, CEO of Our Towns Habitat for Humanity
Chris Ahearn, CEO of Our Towns Habitat for Humanity

"Our mission is to serve as many families as possible with affordable housing in the greater Lake Norman area. And with the rising cost of land and rising construction costs, that becomes more and more challenging every day," Ahearn said. 

"So we saw the opportunity to have conversations with Charlotte to look at how we might serve more families together than either one of us could serve alone by combining our resources and eliminating duplication of efforts," said Ahearn, who was communications director at home improvement retailer Lowe's until becoming Our Towns' CEO two years ago. 

Habitat Charlotte has built or repaired homes for more than 2,000 families since its founding in 1983.  Our Towns Habitat has built 350 homes and repaired another 300 from Huntersville to Statesville since 1988. 

Belcher said the larger affiliate will serve about 250 families per year, up from about 200 now.  

The organization plans to maintain its current offices in Charlotte and Cornelius, as well as seven Habitat for Humanity ReStores in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties. Those stores are a major source of revenue, Belcher said. 

The combined organization will have annual revenues of about $30 million and assets of about $55 million - mainly a portfolio of nearly 1,100 mortgages, said Belcher. 

"When we build homes, we sell them to our families at a subsidized and below-market interest rate," she said.

The groups said the merged Habitat affiliate will get a new name "which will represent its expanded service area" to be announced by the Feb. 28 merger date.