Affordable Housing

Artist’s Colony Brings Beauty and Inspiration to Harlem

Here’s a sobering statistic for any young, wide-eyed artist considering living in Manhattan with dreams of becoming the next Jackson Pollock or Keith Haring: The average rental cost in the Big Apple is now over $4,000 a month and wages have not kept pace with the rate hikes. According to a study from Capital One and The Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University, which analyzed affordable housing trends in 11 of America’s largest cities, median rents in New York rose 12 percent from 2006 to 2013. Moreover, median incomes remained flat with no growth during that same time period. The study also shows that 74 percent of low-income New Yorkers cannot find affordable housing.

Yes, long gone are the days when neighborhoods like SoHo, Tribeca and Greenwich Village were a magnet for painters, sculptors, musicians and poets. These days, artists are even having trouble finding affordable space in Brooklyn and beyond.

But hope springs from developments like the new El Barrio’s Artspace PS109 located at 215 East 99 Street in the “El Barrio” section of East Harlem. What was once an imposing Gothic public middle school built in 1898 is today a haven for artists who can live in 89 affordable live/work units. They also get to enjoy a 3,000-square-foot art gallery for residents and 10,000 square feet of non-residential space for arts and cultural organizations. To help the area preserve its cultural heritage, Artspace has reserved at least 50 percent of the units for current El Barrio residents.

“This building has changed my life,” says Edward James Castrillon, vocalist and songwriter for the band Atabey who grew up in the neighborhood. He remembers walking past the building as a kid and feeling scared because he had read books about Jack the Ripper and “the place looked like a jail or an insane asylum,” he says. Sitting on the edge of his bed in his minimally decorated studio with a guitar case perched in the corner, he says, “It’s great to be in a place where everyone shares a common purpose.”

Given the current rental environment in the area, it’s not surprising that units in Artspace are highly coveted with thousands of applications submitted. Another development Capital One helped to finance in NYC had a similar turnout—the Uris on Sugar Hill, developed by Broadway Housing Communities, Inc., in the historic Sugar Hill district of West Harlem received more than 48,000 applications for 98 lottery units. This level of interest only underscores the immense need for affordable housing to enable residents to live and work in NYC, oftentimes in neighborhoods where they were born and raised.

“I am super grateful and excited to be living here,” says artist Giannina Gutierrez, holding one of her beloved cats while surrounded by her colorful paintings in her studio. Natural light pours through the windows along one wall of her apartment, for which she pays just $785 a month.

This building means the world to me. — Giannina Gutierrez

Not only does Artspace provide residents with a modern and inspiring place to live and work, but the revitalization of this historic building has transformed it from an eye sore to a neighborhood treasure. The development also serves as a cultural hub for the community, bringing art, events and creative services to residents and neighbors.

Will Law, chief operations officer for Artspace, says the $52.2 million development never would have happened without the help of Capital One, which contributed a $15.8 million construction loan. “We don’t fit into the typical lending box,” he says of Artspace. “Capital One shares our values, and they are true believers in affordable housing. We hope to do a lot more projects together.”

And so do artists all across America.

By Fabian Ramirez, Senior Vice President, Community Finance, Capital One

To learn more about Capital One’s affordable housing initiatives with leading developers across the country, and to engage with other professionals in the field, request membership in our private LinkedIn group by clicking here.