Could LA’s artists be priced out?

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Here’s a new way to measure just how hard it is for working artists to survive in Southern California’s increasingly expensive rental market.

In August, developer Related Co. opened an affordable housing development in downtown Santa Monica with 10 apartments reserved exclusively for low- to mid-income artists. The live-work studios rent for $439 to $888 per month and were awarded via a lottery. By late October, not only were the units filled, but the waiting list was closed indefinitely. A spokeswoman for Related Co. declined to say how many artists are waiting but said it was “in the thousands” and sufficient for many years into the future.

Screen shot of application
From the Belmar application: “Artist” means a person who is recognized by critics and peers and has verifiable training and/or a reputation and credentials… (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

That’s increasingly the plight of artists not just on the Westside, but all over Los Angeles. Neighborhoods like Echo Park, Highland Park and the downtown Arts District have seen such a surge in rental prices that the musicians, artists, dancers and writers who helped put those places on the map are struggling to stay.

Double-digit rent increases and growing student debt have made it especially hard for young, emerging artists in a big city, said Timberg, author of the new book “Creative Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class.”

Numbers are hard to come by, but one data study found that of all arts graduates in Los Angeles, 19 percent make a living as artists.

As for rising rents, the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate projects that rents will climb 8.2% in Los Angeles County by mid-2016, to $1,856 a month, on average. Rents were highest in Santa Monica, with an average projected rent of $2,618.

The rental equation for working artists has traditionally been, “Where can I rent the most space for the least amount of rent?” For years that made the warehouses and store-fronts in the downtown Arts District attractive to artists who need storage room and rehearsal space.

William Kaminski opened an art gallery called Control Room in 2009 on a then-sleepy, industrial stretch of 7th Street by the LA River. Space was cheap and art openings could go all night. By 2013, the neighborhood included Tony’s Saloon, Pizzanista, Handsome Coffee Roasters, and myriad loft condos. Kaminski, who slept in the back of the gallery, got an email from his landlord saying the building was being sold.

“I felt like I was getting spit out by LA, you know? Do we move to Detroit, what are we supposed to do now?” Kaminski said. “All of a sudden, it’s like we did our job and so the property values had gone up and we were left with we were left with nowhere to go.”

Hear the full discussion on KCRW’s “Which Way LA?”