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A dream come true

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COLUMBUS, Georgia (WRBL)-Come with me on the story of one man’s selfless dream. That man is Hal Averett, a successful Columbus homebuilder who left us far too soon.

His pastor, Dr. Jimmy Elder, says Hal was a lifetime member of the First Baptist Church of Columbus. And that’s where he served…where he really loved it.

According to Elder, “Hal was always interested in anything that could be considered a missionary experience. It was his heart.

Hal traveled with his church to faraway places to serve 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, a First Baptist outreach on Victory Drive.

Discussing the church’s mission outreach efforts, Hal said, “We can preach to them. We can feed them. We can give them private lessons. We can love them. We can take care of them while they are in our building. But when they leave here, they come home and the roofs leak and the heat and air don’t work. In so many cases, the conditions are deplorable.

Elder said, “It 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 this neighborhood to get people out of the conditions they were living in.

Hal’s dream was to start with finding land. It turns out that some members of the First Baptist Church owned property across from Victory Mission.

Elder recalls, “Hal went to see Bob Elliott and his family, and his sister Susan Rich, and told them about it. This contagious dream is something that carried over to the Elliotts. And in their generous spirit with others within the Buck family, the land was set up for this purpose. The nice part is that they gave it in memory of their mother, Brownie Elliott, the wife of Judge Robert Elliott.

Acquiring land was only the first step in realizing Hal’s dream.

Elder admitted, “We still couldn’t build houses. We had to have some sort 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 years ago in the early 90s when my office at the Greater Columbus Homebuilders Association was right next door to his office.”

After retiring, Hal reconnected with Cathy who was then running NeighborWorks. He told her he wanted to get involved in affordable housing. This discussion led to a trip to Opelika.

“I introduced him to a community called Jordan’s Gate,” Cathy recalls. “It’s a nice little affordable housing subdivision that’s being done on a rent-to-own program. They used our floor plans to keep it affordable and Hal fell in love with it.

She says that when they got back to Columbus, Hal told her “we’ll do it”. To which Cathy replied: “Okay, put me on a coach. I am ready to play.

The other pieces of Hal’s dream puzzle would take time to fall into place. Unfortunately, Hal wouldn’t be around to witness the finished masterpiece. He died in November 2018.

“We lost Hal and it broke my heart that he wasn’t here to see him,” Cathy said. “But I know he’s watching so it’s okay.” But I can always feel his presence throughout this kind of guiding us.

Cathy wasn’t going to let her “coach” down. She was attached to Hal’s dream. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place two years ago when NeighborWorks was able to tap into an entirely new source of capital for a project in North Highland.

“So we created Highland Homes on Fourth using news market tax credits and it worked. It worked like a charm, and I said, okay, that’s part of the puzzle.

Cathy then approached the City of Columbus to designate the area where the gifted property is located as a tax allotment district. The city council recently approved the TAD.

Cathy describes all the moving parts that went into place to bring the project to fruition. “We now have the funding source for the infrastructure (on the gifted property). We have the funding source for the subsidy layer that is needed to keep housing affordable through 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 benefits of the TAD to support this debt instrument. And so everything fell into place and now we’re ready… now we have to ride.

This Hal Averett dream project is called Elliott’s Walk. When completed, it will span 33 acres and include 43 single-family homes for sale, much like the homes in the Highland Homes on Fourth project. It will also include an apartment complex of approximately 160 units for residents aged 55 and over. The project will also eventually include around 56 European-style homes.

Details of the project were presented at a recent church service at First Baptist. Members of Hal Averett’s family, including his granddaughter Hallie, were there to help unveil an interpretation of Hal’s dream.

One thing was clear… the credit goes to God. Dr. Elder says, “He helps us see a dream, understand our mission, and then follow the Lord for what He wants. Because in the end, Hal would tell you… it was the Lord’s dream planted in his heart.

Cathy says they hope to innovate on Elliott’s Walk within the next six weeks.