New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio discussing affordable artists' housing during his 2015 State of the City speech (screenshot by the author for Hyperalleric)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio discussing affordable artists’ housing during his 2015 State of the City speech (video screenshot by the author for Hyperalleric)

In his State of the City speech today, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to build 1,500 new affordable live/work units for artists over the next decade.

“We know that New York City is a place with a legend, of struggling, hardworking people who grew up here, came here from around the country, came here from around the world with a simple dream to create something,” de Blasio said. “A lot of them struggled. A lot of them struggle today. Through their struggles, through their vision, they create extraordinary things that came to define this place. We received so much from them. It helped make us a great global capital, but a lot of times they kept struggling. So, for all those generations of artistic visionaries we want to do something different now. We’ll provide 1,500 units of affordable live-work housing for artists and musicians who make New York City such a great and vibrant place.”

The plan is part of a broader municipal strategy to make affordable housing a major priority in 2015, particularly for artists, veterans, and seniors. The live-work units for artists will be developed through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, with the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) contributing $3 million annually, and another $3 million coming from private donors. Every year through 2024, the city will build 150 new units for artists. The decade-long initiative will also see the creation of “500 dedicated affordable work spaces for the cultural community,” de Blasio said, converted from city-owned properties that are underused. An initial request for proposals for the new affordable artists’ housing is expected to be released by the end of 2015, with the DCA partnering with outside organizations — chiefly nonprofits — to determine the ideal criteria for projects.

The exterior of El Barrio's Artspace PS109 (courtesy Artspace, photo by Christopher Lopez)

The exterior of El Barrio’s Artspace PS109, a former public school recently converted into live-work spaces for artists (courtesy Artspace, photo by Christopher Lopez)

“We just can’t allow artists to be priced out of New York City,” DCA Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl told WNYC. “They’re important for the soul of the city, they’re important for neighborhoods, they’re really important for the economy.”

The lack of affordable housing for artists in New York City is hardly a new problem, but there have been precious few municipal projects to build new apartments for artists. Save for the recent conversion of the abandoned PS109 building in El Barrio into 89 affordable units for artists and their families — for which a whopping 53,000 artists applied — the city’s best-known artist housing project remains the Westbeth Artists Community in the West Village, which welcomed its first artist tenants 45 years ago.

The courtyard of the Westbeth Artists Community (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The courtyard of the Westbeth Artists Community (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

While it’s tempting to chalk this new affordable housing initiative up to some kind of artistic flourishing akin to the avant-garde that used downtown Manhattan as its aesthetic playground in the 1970s and ’80s, de Blasio’s ensuing comments offer an economic motivation for the project.

“On a practical note, these artists, musicians, the whole cultural community, they also help make our city a mecca for tourists,” the mayor added. “It’s one of the reasons why in 2014, a record 56.4 million tourists visited this city, which is an astounding figure. So we’re gonna make sure we support people who have done so much for us.”

It’s hard to imagine that de Blasio’s new housing initiative will seriously impact the housing shortage for artists in New York, tens of thousands of whom are still struggling to find affordable space in the city.

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

6 replies on “NYC Will Build 1,500 New Affordable Artists’ Studios by 2025”

  1. While that last paragraph may be true, why not end on a positive note instead.
    What do you expect him to do?

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