ULI Indiana News

Affordable artist homes

Artists, developer team up to keep homes affordable for creatives

Shared ownership in Indianapolis transforming block from vacant to vibrant

A people-focused arts organization and a nonprofit community developer are teaming up with neighbors, artists and builders to launch an affordable home ownership program that turns vacant houses into long-term affordable homes for artists. Applications are being accepted until April 14 for the first two houses in a multi-phase approach that will include as many as 10 affordable homes for artists who will help boost this transitioning neighborhood just south of downtown.

The program works as sort of an exchange, with artists co-owning the homes with the partnership — that way only needing to pay half of the cost. If the artist should move out in the future, the partnership will buy their half of the house and put it back in the program at the same cost level, insuring that affordable home ownership sustains. This way, increased property values caused — at least in part — by art-focused community development boosting demand in the neighborhood won’t price out artists on this block currently transforming from mostly vacant to vibrant.

The nonprofit art and placemaking organization Big Car Collaborative is working in partnership with Riley Area Development Corporation, the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership, Garfield Park Neighbors Association as well as teams of builders, contractors and architects to renovate formerly boarded up homes to serve as a catalyst for positive activity on a short block that dead ends into an interstate highway that nearly destroyed the neighborhood in the late 1960s.

On this same block, Big Car — which formed in the nearby Fountain Square neighborhood in 2004 — operates Tube Factory artspace, a community art center that also serves as base of operations for Big Car’s citywide work to “bring art to people and people to art, sparking creativity in lives to support communities.” And Big Car also operates, at the end of the block, Listen Hear — a sound art gallery and home for its new community-and-art-focused FM radio station. Big Car owns the Tube and Listen Hear buildings, opening both in 2016.

Artists living in the homes will be able to access these facilities and be part of these programs and help further expand efforts in the neighborhood to promote monthly First Friday gallery walks and an art-filled streetscape and outdoor mini-festival area on the block. Interested artists can begin the application process at www.bigcar.org. An informational meeting will also take place on April 5 at 6:30 p.m. at Tube Factory, 1125 Cruft St. Indianapolis, IN 46203 and will be live on the Tube’s Facebook page.

The Artist and Public Life Residency program will open in multiple phases as the partnership raises funds and teams of builders, contractors, and architects renovate the houses. Indy Mod Homes, led by Indianapolis builder Ursula David, teamed up with Axis Architecture on one of the homes and Gibson Construction renovated the other. Indianapolis construction company, Shiel Sexton, is beginning work on one of the houses in the next phase.

“This is an effort to support and attract artists who use their talents and skills to drive positive change in the community,” said Big Car Collaborative CEO and lead artist Jim Walker, who lives in the neighborhood with his family.

Indianapolis artist Danicia Malone is the coordinator of the Artists and Public Life Residency program for Big Car. “Our goal is to allow artists enjoyable and equitable home ownership while they work with other neighbors and boost the livability, diversity, safety, health, and economy of the neighborhood,” she said. “We’re also working with neighbors to weave culture and creativity into the fabric of the community.”

The houses used in this program previously sat vacant, some for years. No existing residents were displaced as the partnership acquired the houses. And these efforts are happening in partnership with current residents as a way to work together to further strengthen the neighborhood and keep affordable housing for artists in place.

“Other entities are also working on strategies for affordable housing in general in the area,” Walker said of the neighborhood anchored by a 128-acre historic city park that will also be along the recently approved Red Line bus rapid transit line. “Our focus is with artists because we’re an arts organization determined to support the neighborhood where we’re based. And we want to help make sure the existing residents and artists who are filling the vacant houses are both able to stay on the block, long term. We want this to become a neighborhood known for art and artists — and stay that way.”

For this program, the partnership of Big Car and Riley views the label of artists broadly to include creatives, makers, designersanyone who considers themselves an artist. Applicants — who will be selected by a panel of out-of-town experts and neighborhood residents — may work in fields such as architecture, culinary art, curation, visual art, public art, furniture, fashion, craft, design, film, writing, performing arts, music, theater, placemaking, socially engaged art.

“Ultimately, we will be teaming up with resident artists who see their work with the public — and their work for the benefit of the community — as at the core of their practice and their production as artists. We’re looking for artists who want to make a difference as artists and neighborhood leaders, and see this work in support of the community as truly part of their art,” Walker said.

Garfield Park Neighbors Association president Ed Mahern sees much value in this effort, and with bringing in artists. “For several years First Friday gallery walks have helped spark positive change in other areas of the city. Now, many artists are being driven out because of high costs for homes and studios. Now that we’re attracting artists to our neighborhood, we want to make sure we’re planning for ways to keep this positive, creative energy here for a long time — and we want to make sure the artists benefit, long term, for what they’re bringing to the community.”

Under this shared ownership model, the artist homeowners gain equity in the properties. And the artist homeowners and the partnership share responsibilities for the homes under a structure similar to a condominium. Should an artist decide to leave the program and the home, the partnership will buy out the artist’s investment in the home. That means the artist homeowner will be able to get out what they paid into the house — should they decide to sell. But, as artists participating in the program, they are not required to sell or move unless they choose to do so. If an artist does decide to move, the partnership will then sell the house to a new artist under the same selection criteria and without the house increasing in cost, keeping homes affordable for artists, long-term, in the neighborhood.

“In this way, the program works like a land bank of sorts for artist housing,” said Eric Strickland, executive director of Riley Area Development. “The idea is to keep the houses outside of market forces and maintain an affordable place for artists to be able to be homeowners in the community.”

When selling, neither owner — the artist or the partnership — will profit from an increase in property value. And the artist homeowner isn’t under risk for a decrease in property value.

“Both owners enter into this with a commitment to keeping affordable homes for artists in the neighborhood, long term,” Walker said. “Ultimately, our partnership and those supporting it are investing in ownership of half of the houses as a subsidy we will never recoup monetarily. But there’s so much value in having artists living in and supporting the neighborhood through their work.”

About Garfield Park: The neighborhood is anchored by the city’s oldest park with multiple amenities. And the area also enjoys other advantages such as an excellent public library branch and access to the Pleasant Run Trail, which connects to The Cultural Trail in Fountain Square. The neighborhood is also located halfway between the University of Indianapolis and the booming Fountain Square area with easy access to Downtown. Portions closest to the park feature stable housing with long-term residents — many involved in the area’s active neighborhood association. The broader area faces key challenges related to economic opportunity and livability for the people who live in the neighborhood. Forty-two percent of households have incomes of less than $25,000, with 13.5 percent having a household income of less than $10,000. Low rates of educational attainment, with 22 percent of adults over age 25 having no high school diploma and 81 percent with no college degree, is also a significant challenge.

Many of the neighborhood’s struggling residents live in sections of the neighborhood blighted by abandoned buildings — 20 percent of homes and other structures are currently vacant in the area. On the section of Cruft Street where Tube Factory is located, nearly half of the homes and what is now Big Car’s building all sat empty. Similarly, the commercial corridor on Shelby Street, which at one time had 33 businesses, 30 of those locally owned, is now plagued with empty storefronts. Lack of safe crosswalks and signage also make Shelby Street and its busy intersections a challenge for pedestrians and cyclists. Big Car is working with the City of Indianapolis to alleviate this problem.

About Big Car: An Indianapolis-based 501c3 nonprofit, Big Car uses creativity as a catalyst to a better city. By providing and supporting unique, educational, participatory, playful and personal experiences, Big Car engages people of all ages and backgrounds in art making and creative problem-solving — inspiring them to be creative thinkers and involved, connected citizens. Learn more at www.bigcar.org and see examples of our projects at www.bigcar.org/projects. 

About Riley Area Development Corporation: Serving businesses, residents, social service agencies, and public facilities in Indianapolis since 1978, Riley facilitates business growth, social and human services development and affordable housing — working in partnerships across several neighborhoods. Most recently Riley has engaged in two shared-equity models, the Artist and Public Life Residency in Garfield Park and the RUCKUS makerspace, to provide creatives and artists access to wealth building programs of home ownership and business ownership.

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