William Thomas Cain  

Joseph Coyle is looking to make the nation’s largest affordable housing developer a force to be reckoned with in the student housing space.

In April, Coyle joined the Marlton, N.J.–based Michaels Organization as president of its newly formed company University Student Living, and he’s hit the ground running. The division plans to develop 7,000 to 8,000 beds in its first two years, eventually growing the business to about 12,000 beds under ownership across 25 assets.

For Coyle, it’s a rapid reintroduction to an industry he knows well. He formerly served as president of College Park Communities, the student housing division of Newtown Square, Pa.–based GMH Communities Trust. Under his leadership, College Park Communities became one of the largest student housing companies in the nation with 60 properties and 40,000 beds under management.

After leaving that post, he took some time off from the industry and focused on a philanthropic endeavor. Coyle has spent the past five years leading Point Pleasant Pediatrics, an operator of housing for special-needs children, providing long-term care and pediatric assisted living. When he arrived, the company was in dire straits. But Coyle repositioned the company so it could launch as a national platform—and did so without taking a salary for five years.

When The Michaels Organization approached Coyle last February, he saw an opportunity to lead an organization from the ground up and quickly began looking for new-development and joint-venture opportunities. “In February, it looked like the markets were starting to loosen up, that debt and equity were going to be available, so I said now’s the time,” Coyle says. “In about a week and a half, we came up with a plan.”

Just 45 days after joining the firm, Coyle found a great piece of land near Louisiana State University in his hometown of Baton Rouge (from which he still commutes, traveling to New Jersey weekly) and snapped it up quickly for a low price. The tract was so coveted by other student housing developers that Coyle sold it 45 days later at a sizable profit. University Student Living’s first project to begin construction, a 12-story, 350-bed graduate housing project by Rutgers University in Camden, N.J., is set to open in August.

After working at publicly held GMH for many years, Coyle appreciates the longer-term approach that a private organization brings. And Michaels is no ordinary private organization. Its status as the country’s biggest multifamily builder in 2011 gives it a marked financing advantage, making it a formidable joint-venture partner.

“We’re a large player and have a lot of experience with the top lenders in the market, so we’re able to get some things done that other people probably can’t,” Coyle says. “And that’s going to make us a bigger player in 2012 and 2013.” —

We’re able to get some things done that other people probably can’t.