Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Gentrification Doesn’t Have to Drive Out a Neighborhood’s Original Residents

January 8, 2015
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Gentrification Doesn’t Have to Drive Out a Neighborhood’s Original Residents
East Harlem's PS 109 offers 89 affordable apartments for artists. El Barrio’s Artspace PS109 via Facebook
The nonprofit Artspace is keeping El Barrio's artists in residence.

As poorer neighborhoods become upscale and hip through gentrification, the residents — often artists — who have made the place what it is often get lost in the shuffle.

But in East Harlem’s El Barrio neighborhood, the nonprofit Artspace is making a home for the neighborhood’s artistic innovators in an old elementary school.

Without the desks, chairs and chalkboards, PS 109 is now offering high quality apartments for cheap prices for artists. So far, 53,000 people have applied for the 89 available apartments, and the first tenants moved in at the end of December, according to Fast Company.  With studios renting for $494 a month and two-bedrooms for $1,022 a month, PS 109 is trying to ensure the survival of Harlem’s artists.

This isn’t Artspace’s first project; it actually has 35 years of experience developing affordable housing options for artists across the country. Started in Minneapolis, the organization’s mission is to keep creative types in their neighborhoods and prevent them from being displaced by the gentrification they helped bring about.

While Artspace’s goal is to provide housing for all artists, it’s particularly interested in providing housing for neighborhood artists, which is why at least half of the new tenants in PS 109 will be locals of El Barrio neighborhood.

There are a few stipulations for potential residents. Applicants must meet the annual income $19,000-$35,000 for one person and $35,000-$50,000 for a family of four, reports Fast Company. Secondly, applicants are interviewed to determine if they meet the artist’s preference criteria and display enthusiasm to participate in the community.

Gloria Duque is one such hopeful applicant. For the past 27 years, she has lived and worked in El Barrio. With space hard to find in New York City, Duque is eager to land a spot in PS 109, which has its own gallery and community areas.

Ultimately, PS 109 is meant to preserve and grow the art scene that makes the area unique.

“The danger of a gentrifying New York is that every community starts to feel the same. The cultural ecosystems become not only less diverse, but the culture of New York as a whole becomes less vital,” Shawn McLearen, Artspace’s vice president of property development and project director for PS 109, says. “Today, you can go in any community, and it feels like it’s a community. That’s the sort of thing we need to invest in.”

MORE: Which Northern City is Selling Homes for $1?

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