Why Immanuel Place, Long Beach’s Newest Affordable Housing Project, Is an Essential Part of the Housing Conversation

Built in 1922, Immanuel Place is one of the most elegant buildings in Long Beach, a former church that catches the eye of any passerby as they stroll through Bluff Heights near 3rd and Obispo—and is now one of the region’s most unique affordable housing complexes.

Designed for the American Baptist Association by architect William Horace Austin, the man behind the Long Beach Airport and the famed Farmers & Merchants Bank building on Pine Ave. in DTLB, it served as a house of worship for Baptist Christians for decades. When its congregation slowly began dwindling to the point of almost being nonexistent, Jane Galloway took the space over and converted it into an art and community center that was active all the way up until 2011. That is when Thomas Safran bought the property and vacated the building—but not to demolish or end the church, per se.

Safran, the owner of an affordable housing development firm, saw potential housing for those that needed it most: low-income seniors, old folk that had experienced homelessness… The needy. He wanted to convert the old church into an affordable housing project that would restore the church’s unique qualities while serving one of the most marginalized populations.

Over the course of the next five years, Thomas Safran & Associates—with a bit of financial help from the City, the California Department of Housing and Community Development, and the Los Angeles Community Development Commission—began fully restoring and converting the church to accommodate 25 housing units.

The community room—arguably the most significant architectural feature of the entire space—is a prime example of the methodical care with which the building was adaptively reused: entirely refurbished, arched stained glass windows shine above a community kitchen space while a library has been created, complete with a fully restored 1963 Aeolian Skinner organ and original renovated lighting fixtures towering over the books. And the hardwood and paint? The design components were kept throughout the space while an historic paint analysis was completed to single out what the final exterior paint color would be.

And surely while Immanuel Place’s newest residents will appreciate these details, they will be appreciating most that they have an affordable roof over their head. An overwhelming number of applicants sought a space at the development, leaving developers to choose those most in need. All of Immanuel Place’s residents are formerly homeless seniors, seniors with special needs, and extremely low-income seniors.

What it shows is a very powerful thing: existing buildings serve multiple purposes—be they churches, libraries, post offices, municipal buildings, fire houses… And they can become what humans deserve and need most: housing.

Surely this is not an end-all-be-all to the housing crisis that is plaguing rural and urban cities alike and disproportionately putting the youth and folks of color at risk, while rising housing costs puts half of all Angelenos on the edge of poverty.

But it is an innovative, cost-effective way of increasing the housing supply for those that need it most.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.