NEA grant will help artists remain in gentrifying downtown L.A.

The downtown L.A. skyline overlooks buildings in the arts district near the Los Angeles River.
(Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times)

L.A.’s Department of Cultural Affairs received a $75,000 grant this week from the National Endowment for the Arts to offset the effect of gentrification in the city’s downtown arts district just west of the Los Angeles River.

Concerned that rising rents are driving out the very folks for whom it is named, the department is setting up the Affordable Artists’ Housing Partnership, a sort of referral service connecting artists with subsidized-rent opportunities in the arts district.

Dominated by warehouse and industrial buildings suited for artists’ lofts -- but also transformable into tonier residential developments -- the district runs about five blocks wide from the Los Angeles River to Alameda Street, between the Hollywood Freeway and Seventh Street.


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Olga Garay-English, executive director of the cultural affairs department, said the goal over the coming year is to house 90 artists in new private apartments in the district, at half the buildings’ regular rent.

Federal law gives developers tax credits for reserving units for low-income families at below-market rates. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 specified artists and writers as groups the subsidies were intended to reach.

“Many developers, as well as the arts community, are not aware” of the law’s special rent consideration for artists, Garay-English said, “and its benefits have not been fully realized. Deliberate brokering needs to occur.”

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In the arts district, she said, artists who’d be priced out of apartments that normally go for $2,000 a month would be able to move in at $1,000, since the federal program calls for a 50% rent subsidy.


If 90 artists can be steered to rent-subsidized units at those rates, Garay-English noted, it would give them a collective economic boost of nearly $1.1 million a year.

The rent subsidies are for people earning no more than about half the area’s median annual household income. In the arts district, that would be $29,000 for individuals and $33,150 for two-person households, with higher thresholds for bigger families.

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The Actors Fund and ArtSpace, two private, nonprofit organizations already involved in helping artists find affordable housing, will help administer the L.A. effort. The NEA sees it as a pilot project that promises to become a model for other cities. Garay-English said she hopes to expand it to other Los Angeles neighborhoods.

The L.A. grant is part of the NEA’s “Our Town” initiative intended to strengthen neighborhoods as creative fountainheads or destinations. The 59 grants announced this week totaled $4.725 million for projects in 36 states.

The City of Santa Monica also received a $75,000 grant, to help offset the effect of rail construction on the Bergamot Station Arts Center. A new Exposition Line station is being built next to the gallery complex.


Jessica Cusick, Santa Monica’s cultural affairs manager, said at least four artists will conceive performances, public art installations, street banners or other activities over two years starting this fall, aimed at reminding people that Bergamot Station remains open despite the construction fences and other disruptions. “The grant will help us celebrate that place and get the word out more fully,” she said.


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