Artspace creates and fosters affordable space for artists and arts organizations. That mission includes building some of the most creative affordable housing developments around.

The Minneapolis-based organization has built new projects, but it typically rehabilitates older buildings into housing and work space for artists. It has helped turn empty factories, abandoned hospitals, and other significant buildings across the country into new housing.

In addition to being a developer, Artspace serves as a consultant to communities and other housing organizations.

President L. Kelley Lindquist tells Affordable Housing Finance more.

Q: How did you get started in affordable housing?

A: In 1987, I was hired to lead Artspace as it made the transition from advocacy to nonprofit development of affordable space for artists. The low-income housing tax credit program had just been enacted, and we were the first developer to use tax credits for affordable live/work housing for artists and their families.

Q: Artspace focuses on creating affordable housing for artists. What's the connection between artists and affordable housing?

A: Most artists have low incomes, especially those who are young and not yet established. They don't choose to be poor, they choose to be artists—and in America, that choice generally means they will qualify for affordable housing.

Q: It has been said that artists help turn around run-down neighborhoods. What do artists bring to a community?

A: Vitality. Energy. Excitement. Artists are true urban pioneers. They look for different amenities than most other people, and they happily colonize neighborhoods that most others would regard as uninhabitable—until the artists move in and make them fashionable.

Q: What will be the biggest challenge for Artspace this year, and how are responding to that challenge?

A: The economy, of course. It has affected everything from the value of tax credits to the ability of cities to address their cultural issues. We expect the next 12 to 18 months to be a period of little or no growth for Artspace. But I don't foresee contraction. The economic benefits that our projects bring to communities make them even more attractive in hard economic times.

Q: What is your favorite amenity or design feature at one of your apartment communities?

A: At Artspace, we like to honor the history of our buildings, so a number of our projects have what you might call historic references. Washington Studios, in Duluth, was a junior high school. If you walk through the building, you'll find blackboards and cloakrooms in several units. But my favorite feature is a running track in the old gymnasium that we converted into balconies in two units.

Q: The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 clarified that occupancy preferences are permitted to favor residents with special needs or who are members of a certain group, including artists. How does this help Artspace and its developments?

A: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had challenged our right to use artist preference as a criterion for selecting residents at one of our projects. The new law renders that challenge moot and guarantees that as we move forward we can assure the communities where we work that our live/work projects will remain artist projects in perpetuity.

Q: What's a recent move that your organization has made that others can learn from?

A: Instead of getting into a long and expensive legal battle with the IRS, we helped assemble a national coalition of organizations and state governments that support the use of low-income housing tax credits for projects with occupancy preferences for many different groups—farmworkers, unwed teenage mothers, firefighters, teachers, and others, including artists. By determining what we had in common and working together, we were able to bring about an important change.

Q: Share with us a housing statistic or fact to think about.

A: In the early 1990s, Artspace transformed two large warehouses in the Lowertown neighborhood of downtown St. Paul into affordable artist live/work projects. The result was astonishing. By 2000, Lowertown's population had grown at a rate of 164.8 percent during the decade, compared to 11.3 percent for the rest of downtown St. Paul and 5.5 percent for the city as a whole. And while the total number of housing units in the rest of downtown St. Paul actually declined by 22.7 percent during the decade, the number in Lowertown increased by 93.1 percent.

Q: So, are you artistic? Any hidden talents?

A: I used to play the piano tolerably well. But I think it would be fair to say that whatever talents I have are entirely out in the open.

Q: What do you do when you are not working?

A: I love downhill skiing, mountain biking, and camping.

Q: Any tips for balancing work and home life?

A: As someone who is married to his job, I'm probably not the person to ask. The closest I get is when I let Danny, my dog, jump up on the bed with me while I'm answering e-mails.

Q: What's the last book that you read?

A: I'm currently re-reading the entire Harry Potter series.

Q: What's next for Kelley Lindquist and Artspace?

A: Artspace occupies a unique niche in the affordable housing industry, and we are increasingly invited to share our story, experiences, and lessons learned with policymakers in a variety of related fields. I expect that trend to continue. As for myself, I'll be here as long as it pleases my board of directors to retain me.

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