Affordable housing aimed at artists is much less diverse than other low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) developments, according to a new study.

Approximately 82% of the residents in artist housing are white compared with about 54% in senior housing and 20% in other LIHTC housing, say researchers who reviewed housing tax credit properties in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.

There are also fewer families, seniors, and people receiving rental assistance living in artist housing. Residents living in affordable housing built with artists in mind also have a higher average income, $29,890, compared with LIHTC properties in general, $18,466, according to the report by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota. One of the people involved in the study is Myron Orfield, institute director, who has frequently clashed with local affordable housing developers and advocates.

The 251-unit development is designed to take advantage of the building’s natural light, high ceilings, and existing character to provide inspiring live/work spaces for its artist residents.
Courtesy Dominium The vacant Pillsbury A Mill flour mill has been turned into affordable housing for artists and others by Dominium.

He states that instead of fighting for integration the affordable housing industry favors segregation because it’s easier to build in poor neighborhoods. He’s now criticizing artist housing.

“Essentially we’re creating a dual system of housing—one for poor minorities in terrible neighborhoods of crime and rotten schools that’s very spartan and one for white people who aren’t necessarily poor in very nice neighborhoods with nice schools and low crime,” says Orfield.

Dominium, a leading affordable housing developer, has converted several notable historic buildings into affordable housing aimed at artists, including the abandoned Pillsbury flour mill in Minneapolis. In addition to 251 affordable apartments, A-Mill Artist Lofts features dance, paint, pottery studios, music practice rooms, and other space for its resident artists. The $151 million development, which is fully occupied, earned Affordable Housing Finance’s Readers’ Choice Award for best historic rehab project last year.

“Dominium selects residents based on Fair Housing rules not based on applicants’ gender or race,” says Mark Moorhouse, senior vice president and partner at Dominium. “Anyone who applies for residency and meets the guidelines set forth by the Department of Housing and Urban Development can live in any of our communities. We follow and aggressively support all federal and state housing laws.”

Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that has also built LIHTC developments for artists, declined to comment on the study.

Like other housing tax credit developments, the artist housing still serves a low-income population. Under the program, the affordable units are restricted to residents earning no more than 60% of the area median income.

The report is highly critical that artist lofts cost more than traditional affordable housing, citing examples ranging from $430,000 to $665,000 per unit. The authors even coin a new term “Politically Opportune Subsidized Housing,” or POSH, to describe the projects “because it simultaneously conveys their appeal to developers and local politicians, their comparative luxury, and their origins as a product of unusual political incentives.”

Developers agree that artist housing has cost more because they have involved the rehabilitation of historic buildings. They say these are projects that not only provide needed housing but turnaround blighted structures. Mills, breweries, and other buildings provide the opportunity to create unique live-work spaces for artists, and they are often in struggling neighborhoods that can often be sparked by the introduction of artists and other young residents.

“The properties discussed in the report are historic rehabs, and preserving these assets has a higher cost than a typical housing project,” Moorhouse says. “However, investing in and rehabbing vacant buildings, such as those cited in the report, can help to revitalize the surrounding areas and transform neighborhood liabilities into community assets.”