Duluth architect firm merges with St. Paul firm specializing in affordable housing

LHB officially acquired Cermak Rhoades Architects on Tuesday.

Dana Waldbillig works in the Duluth office of the architect firm LHB Monday. The company is acquiring a St. Paul-based architect firm that designs affordable housing. (Steve Kuchera /

Duluth architect firm LHB has merged with architect firm Cermak Rhoades Architects , which specializes in affordable housing developments.

Acquiring the St. Paul-based firm will expand LHB’s capacity to build affordable housing units, which its leaders say are in high demand in the region. The two firms officially merged Tuesday.

CRA is a 26-year-old firm specializing in creating affordable housing units, and the addition increases LHB’s manpower and efficiency for creating that type of housing, said LHB CEO Rick Carter.

“We like to say (CRA) and LHB are the best at this,” Carter said.

Kim Bretheim, who leads LHB's Housing Studio, will manage the new staff. He said the merger will help them address the high demand for affordable housing they receive from clients, which include governments, nonprofits and others.


Affordable housing has a "fairly specialized" set of requirements for design, development process and funding, which Bretheim said the two firms are looking forward to working through together.

While affordable housing units are the firm’s most requested projects, there isn’t sufficient funding to build the needed units, Carter said. The cost of construction and opening new units is rising faster than people’s income, he said.

"The number of people in that affordability gap increases year over year,” he said.

LHB is an approximately 240-person firm that's created more than 9,600 units and has locations in Duluth, Superior, Minneapolis and Cambridge, Minn. It’s the local architect firm on Essentia Health’s Vision Northland development, and has worked on other local housing projects like Kenwood Village and with Center City Housing Corps .

Ten staff members from CRA moved from its St. Paul office to LHB’s Minneapolis location, which doubled its Housing Studio's ability to work on affordable housing projects, Carter said. CRA’s clients and projects also folded into LHB Tuesday, as it was the official asset purchase day.

Bretheim said in a statement: "Designing safe, quality housing creates stability in a community and gives residents the springboard they need to improve their lives through employment, health care, education, and engagement.”

With CRA founders Terri Cermak and Todd Rhoades nearing the end of their careers, Carter said they determined it was best for their clients and staff to merge with LHB. The firm was also LHB’s main competitor for affordable housing projects.

"LHB’s integrative team shares our commitment to creating regenerative communities. Coming together, we have the capabilities to fulfill our clients’ needs to create more affordable and supportive housing," Cermak said in a statement.

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