Ironically enough, starving artists are often to blame for gentrification. A neighborhood’s cool factor is generally established by the ‘makers’ and the ‘doers’ — people in creative industries who move in for the cheap rent and in turn, reinvigorate the area with cafés, galleries and vintage boutiques.
Once word spreads, it’s only a matter of time before those who built up the community are pushed away from it. It’s a decades-old dilemma in New York — apparent in neighborhoods like SoHo, the East Village, Williamsburg and most recently, Harlem.
ArtSpace, America’s leader in artist-led community transformation, is fighting back against this cycle — one affordable housing project at a time. Their latest is a five story, 89-unit former public school building for artists and their families in East Harlem.
There were over 53,000 applicants for El Barrio’s Artspace PS109 — yielding an acceptance rate of just 0.2 percent. A community-based selection committee was responsible for interviewing the applicants, who were chosen based on commitment to their art and income level. Fifty percent of the units were reserved for long-standing East Harlem residents, to preserve the neighborhood’s Latino identity.
The studio, one bedroom and two bedroom apartments, which range in size from 480 to 980 square feet, provide enough space for resident artists to live and work. Units are characterized by high ceilings, large windows, durable surfaces and wide doorways. To qualify, single residents must earn between $19,000 and $35,000 a year, and a family of four between $38,000 and $50,000. Studios will be rented for $494 a month and two bedroom suites for $1,022.
The historic building, which dates back to 1898, was reimagined by Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects and Victor Morales Architects. El Barrio’s Artspace PS109 meets New York’s Green Communities Criteria and includes a community garden, kitchen and a green market. The ground floor and lower level have been reserved for arts and cultural organizations and a 3,000 square foot residents’ gallery will help bring exposure to the community.
Construction has been completed and residents are expected to begin moving in in early 2015. While 89 affordable housing units may be just a drop in the bucket, it’s a step closer to Artspace’s goal of establishing vibrant, economically diverse neighborhoods.