City paints picture of affordability for artists needing place to call home

Quincy Logan never imagined while living in Reading, Pennsylvania, that he could afford to move back to Philadelphia and pursue his artistic calling as a dancer.

Logan, 44, attended Franklin Learning Center High School in Philly and drew inspiration from local dancers like Wayne St. David, Crystal Frazier and Rennie Harris of Puremovement.

But when he read about the new affordable housing project being set up by People’s Emergency Center (PEC) that was appealing to artists, he saw an opportunity. And now he’s got a spacious studio apartment with a loft.

“You can’t put that into words,” Logan said inside his new apartment. “I’m very blessed and humbled. To move from Reading to here, and I get this? I will no longer complain about anything.”

PEC’s affordable housing for artists is a 20-unit development that attracted more than 300 applications before its official opening in January. It was full by March. Not every tenant is an artist, but the creative community includes late-career and novice artists across multiple mediums, from painters and actors to jewelry designers.

The development is the second such affordable housing project for artists in the city, after the Coral Street Art House in East Kensington, which began accepting tenants in 2006.

The building replaces a vacant lot in the West Powelton neighborhood. PEC hopes that the creativity of artists could prove contagious and help rejuvenate the area, said Stephanie Wall, PEC’s deputy director of community economic and real estate development.

“Arts can be that forum where people come together to find some common ground,” Wall said.

Powelton Village, West Powelton and Mantua have a high concentration of artists, but low public investments and the lack of a support network have prevented the neighborhood transformations seen in neighborhoods like Fishtown or along South Street, a 2014 Drexel study found.

This project aims to supply the missing ingredients to help artists take root in this sometimes neglected section of West Philly outside the bounds of University City, Wall said.

The apartments at 4050 Haverford Avenue are open to anyone, but artists get moved to the top of the waiting list. That led PEC to some interesting discussions about how to define “artist.”

“It’s a really tricky question,” Wall said, adding that PEC elected to ask applicants for samples of their work, artists’ statements, and to come in for an interview. Artists who made the cut were defined by their commitment to their craft, she said.

“At the end of the day, it’s ‘Is this person pursuing art as a serious endeavor,’ not just as a hobby they’re dabbling in,” she said.

Logan thinks projects like this could help shore up Philadelphia’s ever-growing arts scene.

“Everyone’s looking for bright lights,” he said. “No one wants to stay here and build here. I don’t think it’s as big as it could be.”

He is now working on choreographing a dance about the ins and outs of a rocky relationship – “a whole story through dance,” as he put it, that he hopes to stage in Philadelphia. He said he never would have been able to focus on the project while scrambling to make a market-rate rent.

“It’s a blessing to be able to do what’s imprinted on your soul. The rigors of normal life don’t allow you to do that,” he said. “Now I can concentrate more on my artwork, because I have the space to work, to create.”

Artist-targeted housing

Affordable housing projects for artists have encountered some success in cities like Boston and New York City.

PEC’s artist-targeted development, which is currently full, is subsidized by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Only tenants whose income is beneath a certain level are eligible. Every tenant pays 30 percent of their income in monthly rent.

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