Noel Khalil
Noel Khalil

Noel Khalil, founder, chairman, principal, and CEO of Columbia Residential and Columbia Ventures, died Oct. 25 after a long battle with an illness, announced the companies. He was 70.

Khalil founded the Atlanta-based Columbia Residential 30 years ago with the purpose of providing high-quality affordable housing where people would be proud to live.

“Noel had an incredible impact on Atlanta and other cities he worked in, and his work created nearly 10,000 homes for families from very low-income to market-rate,” says Jim Grauley, president and COO at Columbia Residential. “His vision and persona were the driving force behind the creation of Columbia Residential and Columbia Ventures and will continue to be our guide and inspiration for carrying the work of our companies forward. Noel’s inspiration of ‘building cathedrals for God’s children’ will extend through the more than 350 associates of our combined companies to animate and continue the great work he started.”

Khalil was inducted into Affordable Housing Finance’s Hall of Fame last year when he recalled that the first project he developed when he went out on his own was an affordable housing community. “My view of affordable housing was that I was not going to lower the standards or quality just because it was affordable,” Khalil said. “It was a common perspective at the time to do a cheap product. I thought there would be a residual value to the property long term, and it made sense to build to market-rate standards.”

His career in real estate began at an early age. His parents, immigrants from Jamaica, purchased a home in the Bronx, living in the downstairs unit while renting out the second level. The family eventually moved and rented both units.

“My mother would send me on the train to the old duplex,” Khalil recalled. “I would shovel the snow, sweep the leaves, collect rent, and my mother made a tough rental officer. I couldn’t come home without the money.”

After working at U.S. Home Corp. and then H.J. Russell & Co. in Atlanta, Khalil took a chance and started Columbia Residential to work on his own developments.

The firm’s work has included revitalizing public housing. One of his proudest accomplishments was the mixed-income Columbia Parc at the Bayou District in New Orleans. The firm overcame numerous obstacles to redevelop the St. Bernard public housing development, which was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

“The other thing that is so powerful and will be so missed about Noel Khalil is the individual generosity and personal touch he had with so many residents, staff members, and partners,” Grauley says. “There are countless stories being recounted of how Noel gave opportunity, inspired careers, or helped in the most personal and impactful ways in so many lives he touched.”

The company, which began as a one-man shop, has had an active presence in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.

Khalil’s family includes three sons and two daughters.