COLUMBUS, GA (WRBL)-Come along with me on the story of a man’s unselfish dream. That man is Hal Averett, a successful Columbus homebuilder who left us way too soon.
His pastor, Dr. Jimmy Elder, says Hal was a lifelong member of First Baptist Church of Columbus. And it was there that he served…where he loved indeed.
According to Elder, “Hal was always interested in anything that would be considered a missions experience. That was his heart.”
Hal journeyed with his church to faraway places to minister and be a blessing. But Hal also knew he didn’t have to travel far to help those in need. He often volunteered at Victory Mission, an outreach of First Baptist on Victory Drive.
In discussing the church’s outreach efforts at the mission, Hal said, “We can preach to them. We can feed them. We can tutor them. We can love them. We can care for them when they’re in our building. But when they leave here, they go back home and the roofs leak and the heat and air don’t work. In so many cases the conditions are deplorable.”
Elder said, “That bothered Hal…so much so that it became his passion. He had dreamed for years of having some kind of opportunity to provide affordable housing in that area to take people out of the conditions they were living in.”
Hal’s dream had to start with finding some land. It just so happened that some First Baptist Church members owned some property across the street from Victory Mission.
Elder recalls, “Hal went to Bob Elliott and his family, and to his sister Susan Rich, and talked to them about it. That contagious dream is something that caught on with the Elliott’s. And in their generous spirit along with others within the Buck family, the land was put together for that (purpose). The beautiful part is they gave it in memory of their mother, Brownie Elliott, Judge Robert Elliott’s wife.”
Land acquisition was only the first step in fulfilling Hal’s dream.
Elder admitted, “We still couldn’t build houses. We had to have some kind of partnership, and that part of the dream is something that brought NeighborWorks into the picture.”
Cathy Williams is the CEO of NeighborWorks Columbus. She says, “Hal and I became friends many, many years ago in the early ’90s when my office at the Greater Columbus Homebuilders Association was right next door to his office.”
After Hal retired he reconnected with Cathy who by that time was running NeighborWorks. He told her he wanted to get involved in affordable housing. That discussion led to a trip to Opelika.
“I introduced him to a community called Jordan’s Gate,” recalls Cathy. “It’s a beautiful little subdivision of affordable housing that’s done under a rent-to-own program. They used our floor plans to keep it affordable and Hal just fell in love with it.”
She says when they got back to Columbus, Hal told her “we are going to do this.” To which Cathy replied, “Alright, put me in coach. I’m ready to play.”
The other pieces of the puzzle to Hal’s dream would take time to fall into place. Unfortunately, Hal would not be around to witness the completed masterpiece. He died in November of 2018.
“We lost Hal and it broke my heart that he wasn’t going to be there to see it,” says Cathy. “But I know he’s watching so that’s okay. But I can still feel his presence all through this kind of guiding us.”
Cathy was not going to let her “coach” down. She was committed to Hal’s dream. Another piece of the puzzle dropped into place two years ago when NeighborWorks was able to use a brand new source of capital on a project in North Highland.
“So we did Highland Homes on Fourth using news market tax credits and it worked. It worked beautifully, and I said, okay, this is part of the puzzle.”
Cathy then approached the city of Columbus about designating the area where the gifted property is located as a tax allocation district. The City council recently approved the TAD.
Cathy outlines all the moving parts that fell in place to make the project happen. “Now we have the funding source for the infrastructure (on the gifted property). We have the funding source for the subsidy layer which is required to keep the housing affordable through the new market tax credits. And then we had a local foundation that said what can we do? And the banks had guaranteed this loan. So now we had a local foundation guaranteeing a favorable debt instrument. Then the city said, well, we can use the TAD benefits to back this debt instrument. And so it all came together and now we’re ready…now we’re to let’s roll.”
This dream project of Hal Averett is being called Elliott’s Walk. When completed it will sit on 33 acres and include 43 single-family homes for sale, much like the houses in the Highland Homes on Fourth project. It will also feature an apartment complex with about 160 units for residents 55-and-older. The project will also eventually include around 56 European-style houses.
The details of the project were presented in a recent church service at First Baptist. Members of Hal Averett’s family, including his granddaughter Hallie, were there to help unveil a rendering of Hal’s dream.
One thing was clear…the credit goes to God. Dr. Elder says, “He helps us see a dream, to understand our mission, and then to follow the Lord to what He wants. Because ultimately Hal would tell you…this was the Lord’s dream planted in his heart.”
Cathy says they hope to break ground on Elliott’s Walk within the next six weeks.