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LA considers an affordable housing program for its disappearing artists

FILE: One Santa Fe is a mixed-use development that opened in September 2014 in the Arts District. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The joke in Los Angeles' Arts District is there’s hardly any artists left because they’ve been priced out of the neighborhood they've helped to make trendy.

To stem the further loss of artists from Los Angeles, two councilmen have proposed creating an affordable housing program for those in creative arts.

Jose Huizar, who represents the downtown Arts District, and Mike Bonin, whose district includes artsy Venice, want to categorize artists as a group eligible for subsidized housing.

"With the rising real estate prices, the artistic community has been increasingly driven out of Venice," Bonin said.  "I really support what it takes to make it easier for artists to stay because they're really the lifeblood of the community."

Artist Jonathan Jerald went before the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee this week to voice support for such a program. Jerald, who co-founded the Arts District Center for the Arts, said gentrification has pushed out many of his friends.

"We estimate 65 percent to 70 percent of the artists who were here 15 years ago are gone, and may have left for more affordable accommodations," Jerald said.

Artist Sylvia Tidwell also told officials that affordably-priced housing in the Arts District is vanishing. The Santa Fe Art Colony where she lives recently stopped offering rent-restricted housing for artists, and is now charging market rates.

"We want to retrieve what we have lost and support the arts and the artists and economic benefits and creative benefits they bring to the city," Tidwell said. 

But legal challenges lie ahead. Ed Gipson of the city’s housing department said there are state and federal laws to consider. 

"Saying you’re giving (artists) a preference overall in the housing starts to run into fair housing issues and state law issues and we have to be very careful if we set up a program," Gipson said. 

Mei Mei Cheng, a deputy city attorney, suggested that officials commission a study to determine whether artists deserve special consideration.