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New Survey Says Dallas Sure Could Use Some Affordable Housing for Artists

by Jerome Weeks 26 Feb 2014 7:53 AM

The findings from last summer’s survey of Dallas-area artists are out – and they certainly support low-income housing for artists. But the leading non-profit that develops such projects says it can’t try one in Dallas – yet.


int2_tanneryloftsOne of Artspace’s Tannery Lofts in Santa Cruz, California.

 Dallas-area arts are big business – together, they have a $322 million impact on the city. But many painters, performers and stage hands have a hard time just paying the rent. KERA’s Jerome Weeks says a new survey of North Texas artists documents a sizable need for affordable housing.

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In 2012, the City of Dallas hired a Minneapolis-based non-profit called Artspace to see how much demand there is for low-income housing among North Texas artists. More than 300 area artists and 47 arts organizations were asked about what they need and could afford in the way of apartments and studio spaces. Also, what would be the best place to locate such a development and what kinds of arts activities it should be designed for – from ceramics to dance to music recording? Kelley Lindquist is the founder and president of Artspace. He says the survey’s findings are pretty clear.

“Let’s face it.” he says. “Dallas has a huge arts market. Dallas could provide many, many hundreds of affordable artists housing and still have everything full and operating.”

More than 25 years ago, Artspace pioneered using low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC) to develop just such  live-work spaces for artists. It worked with the IRS to get approval for limiting tenants to certain professions — it’s also done for farmworkers, for instance. Artspace eventually built and continues to own and manage 35 buildings across the country from East Harlem to Houston to Seattle. It has never sold a building — meaning, it’s not renovating buildings to flip them for the real estate profit. In a number of cases, Artspace has taken over derelict buildings and within a few years, the surrounding neighborhood has been transformed.

kelley“We find,” says Lindquist (left), “that when creative people or artists are together, when there’s a sort of critical mass, that the artists start to share their resources, share their ideas. So by having an artist non-profit affordable housing center you really get a whole sort of think tank of creativity that gives back to the community around it.”

In addition to developing such centers, Artspace also does consulting – like the Dallas survey. In the survey, Artspace concludes that the Dallas market could start with around 80 live-space units — apartments that are a little larger than conventional single- or two-bedroom apartments because they include workspace for a photographer, writer or sculptor. But these apartments would still be rented at significantly below-market rates. There’s also a need for 13 studio spaces, without the living quarters.  Again, these are just starting figures — units that the Artspace survey indicates we know already could be filled.

As for locations, the Arts District was the top choice of artists and organizations, followed by downtown in general and then Deep Ellum. The best such locations, Lindquist says, are ones that are in or near a transit hub. This is not just because artists frequently use mass transit like DART. Developers also get tax incentives to build near such hubs.

Actually, such a survey is typically part of the prep work Artspace does before launching one of its own projects. But Lindquist says, Artspace likes to do one building in a state at a time. And they’re already four years into a project in downtown El Paso.

“Dallas is a natural next step for Artspace,” he says. “But as far as starting to really look for sites and do the kind of homework that leads to a development project, we should probably wait until 2015 on that since this year will lead to the beginning of the construction of our El Paso project.”

Until then, Lindquist says, the survey indicates the Flora Lofts development makes sense. Flora Lofts is the six-story building planned for 2121 Flora Street in the Arts District. Flora Lofts is owned and managed by the nonprofit group, La Reunion, and the development will hold around 47 units for artists along with retail businesses on the ground level — which is the kind of set-up preferred by Artspace as a way of linking artists and the surrounding neighborhoods.

“I give a lot of credit to Flora Lofts,” says Lindquist. “What they’re doing is starting the excitement and energy about what it would mean to live and work in this community. But once you get that synergy going, more and more artists will be attracted to be there. It’ll be easy to build another 50 to one hundred units of artists’ housing.”

But construction hasn’t begun on Flora Lofts. La Reunion hopes artists might start moving in some time next year.