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Mixed-Housing Pioneer Noel Khalil Dies At 70

Columbia Residential and Columbia Ventures CEO Noel Khalil, a giant in Atlanta affordable housing development, died Monday after a three-year battle with cancer, Columbia executives told Bisnow. He was 70.

Noel Khalil, who was one of the pioneers in Atlanta's mixed-income and affordable housing industries, lost his battle with cancer this week.

“Noel was a visionary,” Windsor Stevens Managing Partner Rod Mullice said. “He, along with Herman Russell, Harold Dawson Sr.T.M. Alexander Jr. and Egbert Perry, transformed housing in the inner city of Atlanta for thousands of Atlanta residents.”

After working for H.J. Russell & Co. in Atlanta, Khalil founded Affordable Housing Partnership in 1991 and embarked on developing affordable housing, changing the company's name to Columbia Residential in 1995.

In 2013, Khalil formed Columbia Ventures, a market-rate and mixed-use division that partnered in the development of Studioplex in the Old Fourth Ward, Beacon Station in Augusta, and the transit-oriented mixed-use development connected to the Avondale MARTA station and Edgewood/Candler.

Columbia developed, owns and manages a number of projects around the Southeast, including the Villages at East Lake Gardenside, Amani Place in Edgewood, Capitol View Apartments, and many other Columbia-branded apartments and senior housing complexes in the city. Between 2018 and 2020, Columbia Residential and Columbia Ventures have invested in excess of $500M in 2,500 units of both affordable, mixed-income and market-rate units.

Khalil was drawn to real estate and housing by his own background of growing up in public housing in the Bronx, New York, RADCO Cos. CEO Norman Radow said. Both Khalil and Radow spent part of their school-age years in New York public housing. Both eventually moved to Atlanta and launched careers in commercial real estate.

As a young man, Khalil, whose parents came from Jamaica, helped his landlord collect rent, and that landlord showed him the value of having high standards in housing projects, Columbia Residential President Jim Grauley said. But the experience also gave him lessons in how to forge a living in commercial real estate.

“Noel would say he was a blue-collar kid with a white-collar education. In my experience working side by side with him, he would draw on some of his childhood experiences,” Grauley said. “That was another thing that shaped Noel. You got to hustle. He came from nothing. You got to hustle and put yourself on the line.”

Integral Group Chairman and CEO Egbert Perry said he became friends with Khalil 37 years ago when both of them worked for H.J. Russell. 

“My professional relationship with Noel evolved from colleague to friendly competitor. He was a very nice man with a tremendously large heart,” Perry said in a statement to Bisnow. “Noel built a successful company that focused on making affordable housing available to families throughout the region. He will be missed by those of us who knew him best.”

Radow, whose firm co-invested with Columbia in its project connected to the Edgewood/Candler MARTA Station, said he appreciated the way Khalil made sure his apartment communities didn't have cookie-cutter design.

“Their team is just so thoughtful, thinks about the neighborhood and giving back,” he said, adding that the developer added a small theater and a public park to the project. “We really built not just an apartment, but a community based on what the neighborhood needed.”

Khalil set high standards for residents of his affordable and mixed-income properties, including requiring that non-senior residents work full time as a requirement for residency, Columbia Residential Property Management President Aaron Swain said.

Other properties are affiliated with local or charter schools to provide quality education for children at their complexes, Grauley said. The higher standards were an important part of what Khalil felt was the key to a mixed-income community's success.

“It's being serious about what's in a standard lease, and it's … not treating people based on income to different standards,” Grauley said. “[Khalil] didn't believe that values were distributed by income.”

Radow said his influence and his employees' admiration for Khalil likely means the firm will not radically change its development efforts.

“He built that company. It has his imprint on it, his DNA on it whether he's there or not,” Radow said. “I think they feel the burden of his legacy and they're going to carry that burden proudly for the rest of their lives.”

Both Grauley and Swain said that was going to be the case: Columbia Ventures and Residential will grow, but the pair plans to continue Khalil's mission and standards.

“This [company] is Noel University,” Swain said. "And that's not going to change."