NEW PORT RICHEY – Two organizations dedicated to helping families in need of proper housing officially became one last week.

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and Habitat for Humanity of West Pasco have joined forces to create Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco.

The groups held press conferences March 1 to announce the joining of forces. The first was at 9 a.m. in Clearwater and the second was at noon in New Port Richey.

“Over the past 12 months, Habitat Pinellas and West Pasco Habitat have engaged in conversation 100 percent focused around serving more families,” Mike Sutton, Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas CEO, wrote in a press release. “We know this step to merge the two organizations will lead to a stronger Habitat for Humanity presence in Tampa Bay and will exponentially provide more affordable housing opportunities in the region.”

Sutton and Habitat for Humanity of West Pasco CEO Kobus Appelgrijn were on hand for the announcements. Sutton will serve as Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco’s CEO and President. Appelgrijn announced that he and his wife are moving to North Carolina but will remain in contact with the merged organizations.

The group’s leadership also stated that the merger will not result in the loss of jobs at either affiliate. Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas employs 56 people and Habitat for Humanity of West Pasco employs 12, and there are plans to soon fill two to three more positions.

The new organization’s main office will be its Clearwater location, 13355 49th St. N. The Habitat offices in New Port Richey and St. Petersburg will remain open, as well.

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas is the older and larger of the two organizations, established in 1985 and ranked as the second-highest performing affiliate in the nation based on new home construction. The Pinellas branch recently celebrated its 500th home build in St. Petersburg and was at 515 homes as of February 2019. Last year, the group served 140 families with 60 homes built, 60 homes funded overseas and 20 critical home repairs completed and volunteers logged more than 73,000 hours.

Habitat for Humanity of West Pasco was formed in 1993 and has served more than 80 families over the past quarter century. In 2018, it launched a five-year project to revitalize a West Pasco neighborhood on Van Doren Avenue and Leisure Lane, known as Town and Country Villas. Plans for the rundown area just west of U.S. 19, near Southgate Shopping Center, include building 35 new and affordable homes this year.

“The need for affordable housing has never been greater,” Appelgrijn wrote in the press release. “Organizations that serve a similar population to Habitat are decreasing their reach or going out of business. This collaboration of two Habitat organizations will allow our organization to serve more families in our region. We will be able to consolidate our back-office operations in both organizations, expand our reach with our ReStore retail operations and most importantly build more homes in a larger service area.”

The Town and Country Villas Initiative attracted a bit of national attention last year to Habitat for Humanity of West Pasco and Appelgrijn when John Deere selected it as one of four projects nationwide to take part in its annual “Small Machines. Big Impact.” contest. The project with the most votes – that was an entry from Black Forest, Colorado – received a new John Deere G-Series machine.

The Town and Country Villas Initiative is grander in scope than standard single-home builds and is a primary reason for Appelgrijn wanting to remain involved while out-of-state.

“While I’m in North Carolina I will be coming down on a monthly basis to do consulting with them and I will be available on the phone for coaching some of the staff members as they work through this transition,” he said after the Friday’s press conference in Clearwater. “The project there is actually going to speed up. We’re very passionate about that project and they share our passion for it. It’s the first time they’ll be doing a project like that, as well.”