Study shows artists lofts intensify segregation

A University study found artist housing may reinforce Twin Cities segregation.

by Eliana Schreiber

A University of Minnesota’s Law School study found that subsidized artist housing could attract white, residential populations at high rates.
According to the study by the Law School’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, these popular subsidized housing projects intensify segregation in the Twin Cities Metro area.
For example, the A-Mill Artist Lofts in Marcy-Holmes are 86 percent white, St. Paul’s Carleton Place Lofts are 88 percent white and the Tilsner Atists’ Cooperative in Downtown St. Paul is 92 percent white, the study said.
Myron Orfield, lead author of the study and IMO’s director, said the trend is consistent with the segregation of Twin Cities neighborhoods.
Some area developers found artist housing more profitable in white neighborhoods, Orfield said, adding that it’s easier and more appealing to develop in these locales.
“When they tell these … neighborhoods that these units are going to be held by artists,” Orfield said, “they convince these affluent white neighborhoods that it’s not going to be poor black people.”
The group of developers, including Dominium and Artspace, received an exemption in the federal statute for tax credit that allowed them to screen tenants which further exacerbated segregation trends, he said.
“The money is supposed to be for the poorest people,” Orfield said. “And it’s going to nonpoor people who may or may not even be artists.”
The screening standards are largely open-ended and may not be applied fairly, he said.
But for others, the role of screenings is not to segregate.
Tenants must show a commitment to the arts, said Dominium spokesperson Sandi Scott.
“They have to bring their portfolio and a resume … but it’s pretty loose, the screening for that,” Scott said.
The type of housing in question, which Orfield calls Politically Opportune Subsidized Housing, or POSH, is characterized by the development of historic buildings with luxury amenities.
POSH housing has increased over the past few years, starting in Minneapolis and expanding to hundreds of locations across the country, he said.
“It’s a group of foundations and developers and banks … that found that this was really a profitable model,” Orfield said.
According to Orfield, developers receive funding intended for poor tenants, as well as revenue from the buildings’ historic designation. In turn, the developments charge twice as much as standard subsidized housing projects.
A-Mill Tenant Addison Hill said he used his knowledge of music theory to get approved for his one-bedroom loft.
“You definitely have to have some type of background in the arts … but I don’t really think that’s the focus,” said Hill, who isn’t active in music production.
He applied to the lofts because he liked the location and proximity to his work.
“It’s a gentrified area,” he said, adding that the history of the neighborhood drew him in.
Sandi Scott said Dominium doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race or gender and actively markets toward all groups.
Hill said he doesn’t pay attention to the diversity of the building but noticed that it tends to be mostly white, older people.
“You see some people of color,” he said. “But … talking about the majority, of course, it’s white.”
In an artist loft, Hill said he would expect to see more diversity and minority populations. 
“Almost all of the subsidized housing, even in white neighborhoods, is majority nonwhite tenants,” Orfield said. “[But] these units are 80-plus percent white.”