‘It enables us to build more and get more funding’

Merger provides new opportunities for affordable housing

Emily Liu/The Sun
Lori Leanord, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of South and Central Jersey announces the merger with Camden County Habitat for Humanity on Jan. 17.

On Wednesday, Jan. 17, Habitat for Humanity of South-Central New Jersey and Camden County Habitat for Humanity announced that they would be merging the south and central Jersey organizations.

Lori Leonard, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of South/Central New Jersey, explained that by bringing the Camden County Habitat for Humanity together with the South/Central Jersey Habitat for Humanity, they are able to do more work.

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“It enables us to build more and get more funding, have more partnerships with larger corporations, just more resources over all to more effectively serve the communities in our geographic surface areas,” she said. “We’ve seen that happen, we were originally just Burlington County and then we merged with the Trenton habitat, so that gave us Mercer County.

“As we were able to continue to merge, we were able to build more and serve more people, attract more donors and funders.”

The nonprofit’s South and Central Jersey Habitat will now cover the Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, and Mercer counties as well as parts of Middlesex counties. As a result of the merger, they will also be hiring more staff that will allow the nonprofit to help build more and help engage with the community more.

Leonard shared that this year, all of the Habitats for Humanities in New Jersey received $25 million to be able to impact communities, provide affordable housing and revitalize neighborhoods.

“[Affordable housing] is so different from rental because with rental, you don’t gain any equity,” she said. “But with home ownership, you gain equity in that home that you can access for education and so many things.”

Families have the opportunity to create generational wealth and also do “normal, regular typical” family things like eating out, going to the movies, going on vacation, getting prescriptions and saving for college, Leonard added.

From her experience with past mergers, Leonard found that merging has allowed Habitat for Humanity to do more projects in a given community rather than less. Each community faces different challenges, as some are more built out without a lot of open land, but for others, there is more room for building new homes.

Jeff Mihalek, former executive director of the Camden County Habitat for Humanity for the past 13 years, expanded on what they do for revitalization of neighborhoods.

“Neighborhood revitalization isn’t just building people a new home, it’s also helping people stay in their home,” Mihalek said. “So we take applications from low to moderate income families who own a home who need help with critical repairs like roofing, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), plumbing to help them stay in their home.”

In the past year, the Habitat for Humanity of South Central Jersey has built 286 Habitat homes, made 266 repairs and built 243 international habitat homes according to its website. In the new year and with the merger, Mihalek is most excited for the opportunity to bring on more staff and departments to help expand Camden County Habitat for Humanity, as he has seen the impact first hand.

“Once I’ve met and seen people get housing through habitat, it’s really changed their lives,” said Mihalek. “They’ve been able to quit one of their jobs to be able to provide more clothing or maybe better schooling to their children or better services now that they don’t have that burden of high rent, it’s usually about half to 60 percent of what their rent was is what their mortgage is.

“Now they have ownership in the community, so they have equity in the house, in the community and they’re able to leverage that to make a better life for them and their children.”

To learn more about Habitat for Humanity, visit https://www.habitatscnj.org/.

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