Dollinger MRED alum remaking historic church into affordable senior housing
By Matthew Kredell
Tyler Monroe (Dollinger MRED/MBA ’08) is proving that affordable doesn’t have to mean unimaginative when it comes to housing.
As vice president of development for Thomas Safran & Associates, which specializes in developing and managing more than 6,000 affordable housing units in California, Monroe is leading efforts to repurpose a historic church in Long Beach into 25 low-income apartments for seniors.
“This project breaks the mold for what people think about affordable housing,” Monroe said. “Utilizing a community asset that wasn’t being used to its maximum potential for affordable housing breathes life into the property and puts it back in service for something that benefits the community.”
Groundbreaking on the 31,000 square foot property in the Bluff Heights neighborhood of Long Beach occurred in March. By the summer of 2016, the Immanuel Church will be remade as Immanuel Senior Housing.
Monroe and his company are being careful to maintain the significant historical attributes of the church, which opened in 1922 with a distinct Spanish colonial design but has been vacant since 2012. They will preserve the building’s historic facade, turn the existing sanctuary into a community room and restore the church’s pipe organ so it can be used for special events.
Among Monroe’s responsibilities is to acquire financing for projects in development, which takes plenty of creativity for affordable housing. Monroe and the Safran team pieced together six funding sources over three years, utilizing public financing from the County of Los Angeles and City of Long Beach to go along with complex low-income housing tax credits from the federal and state governments.
“It is very much a public-private joint venture,” Monroe said, “and the project would not have happened but for the financial support, encouragement and active participation of both the City of Long Beach and County of Los Angeles.”
He also noted that Long Beach Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal DPPD ’02 – whose district includes the neighborhood where the church is located – was a strong advocate of the project and played an instrumental role in getting it approved, financed and started.
“Tyler has one of the hardest jobs in real estate: finding a way to build affordable units when everyone else is struggling to make market rate deals make sense,” said Chris Redfearn, USC Price associate professor and director of graduate programs in real estate. “Housing affordability may be a permanent issue for Los Angeles. Along with it comes challenges for the rest of the region’s economy as firms have to offer higher salaries to compensate employers for high housing costs. Tyler has been right at the center of making a difference for his residents and for the region.”
Monroe credits Redfearn for teaching him how to work through financing challenges to move a project forward and calls USC Price Professor Raphael Bostic a mentor for encouraging his interest in affordable housing, during his time in the Dollinger Master of Real Estate Development program.
“Everything I learned in the MRED and MBA programs at USC is rooted in this project, enabling me to successfully execute within the company and our team to get this project where it is today,” Monroe said.
Adaptive reuse of an historic church required a delicate touch in understanding and incorporating concerns from community members. Preserving the architecture of the building was important to everyone involved. Thomas Safran & Associates also agreed to relocate a neighboring 1920s Craftsman home in order to use the lot for parking, because even though the home was not on the historic register, it was important to the community.
The company is repurposing the structure with an eye on energy efficiency, having designed the build for LEED green platinum certification.
“We want these projects to be a win-win for the city, the community, for us and for future residents,” Monroe said. “This all started because we thought the church was a beautiful building and had an energy to it that would be complementary to senior housing.”
Monroe has a long family history at USC. He’s a fifth-generation Trojan, dating back to his great great grandfather John Wesley Robinson, who was in one of the earliest graduating classes back in the late 1800s. His mother Kristine Robinson Monroe is an assistant professor of clinical preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and his wife Kristen graduated from USC Marshall School of Business in ’05.