Follow the Artist: Why the Next Hot Neighborhood is a Youthful One

October 21, 2014 | By

“I used to take one train, now I take two,” says Ross Keller, a 28-year-old musician and rapper who recently moved from Manhattan to the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The benefit, says Keller (who also goes by his stage name Rossco P), is that he lives in an area where he has “room to breathe.”

Like other young, creative types who are forsaking well-established neighborhoods to live in more affordable areas that are off the trodden path, he’s also getting something less tangible: a more nurturing environment for his creative pursuits, thanks to the bohemian culture of these neighborhoods.

But as they gain their financial footing while also laying down roots, these artists also may be informing outsiders — often unintentionally — about where the next big real estate market will be. Once an area is deemed trendy, landlords may raise rents and make it less affordable to those who helped revitalize it.

Rents in neighboring Williamsburg, Brooklyn, once a cheaper alternative for young New Yorkers who couldn’t afford Manhattan’s escalating rents, now average over $2,900 per month, according to Zillow.com. From 2000 to 2012, apartment rents in New York City increased by 75 percent (compared with 44 percent in the rest of the country), according to the New York City Comptroller. Rents in Williamsburg rose 50 percent during that timeframe.

Rising rents are forcing some young creatives to migrate deeper into Brooklyn for more affordable accommodations, although those spaces are becoming increasingly scarce. In Bushwick, which borders Williamsburg, rents have jumped by nearly 7 percent over the past year, to an average $2,436 per month.

“I moved to East Williamsburg for a number of reasons — lower rent, more space and the convenience of the L train. I was looking for a place with a bit of extra room to set up a space to do some personal work,” says Eric Hoffman, a 27-year-old designer with SHoP Architects, an architecture firm in Manhattan.

Hoffman tells The Home Story that his neighborhood has already changed — older stores are being replaced by more fashionable ones. “You can tell retail rents have gone up as a lot of places have closed. I’m waiting for the new wave of [stores] to open up.”

This phenomenon is not specific to any one region. It’s happening across the country, and even across the pond in England.

Hackney, a neighborhood in the East End of London, was once made up of empty warehouses and abandoned front stoops in the 1970s due to a sharp economic decline. This led to increased unemployment and poverty, until Hackney became a destination for young creative types seeking refuge from rising rents farther west in London. People took notice, and Hackney’s home prices have surged 800 percent in fewer than 30 years, according to a study by real estate agency Stirling Ackroyd.

 

Imitation — The Highest Form of Flattery

Similarly, Lawrenceville was once a blue-collar neighborhood in Pittsburgh that was hit hard when the city lost 75 percent of its steel-making capacity in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, artists are helping to infuse a new creative spirit, and the neighborhood is packed with fashion and furniture designers. New art galleries like to showcase local (and sometimes undiscovered) artists.

But Lawrenceville’s popularity has affected its once-affordable rents, as well. Lauren Byrne, the executive director of the local advocacy group Lawrenceville United, told TribeLive.com that rents in the neighborhood have increased from $500 a month to $1,400.

The relationship between artists and neighborhood housing is far from clear-cut. In fact, a study by the University of Texas at Arlington found that different types of artists could have a different impact. The commercial arts (those who work in the film, music and design sectors) have the “strongest” relationship to the gentrification of once-affordable neighborhoods, the study found, while the fine arts (visual and performing arts companies and fine art schools) contributed to stable and slower growth in these areas.

As cities, landlords and businesses look to redevelop these areas after they become popular with young artists, the study argues that they all should “pay close attention to the availability of affordable housing and other mechanisms that mitigate the displacement of long-time residents and small businesses.”

Some are skeptical about whether an influx of artists and other trendsetters push up rents, however.

“Where generalized pressures in housing markets are high and where city governments encourage gentrification, (a rent increase) happens whether it is artists or other types of people,” such as young professionals or higher-income retirees, says Ann Markusen, director of the Arts Economy Initiative and Project on Regional and Industrial Economies at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

“But in other cities, like Philadelphia, where there aren’t such pressures, the presence of artists does not create rising land/housing/rents,” she adds.

 

‘Find a new city’

Artists are also likely to go where more traditional renters and buyers aren’t yet comfortable. Crime and grime are less of a concern than having a large, affordable space that provides room for carpentry, welding or sound equipment.

San Francisco’s Tenderloin district has long been the underbelly of the Bay Area. While the surrounding rents have risen, the Tenderloin has resisted the change seen in nearby artist communities such as the Mission District (where Google and Apple employees now rent apartments for its proximity to the freeway, cutting down on the commute to Palo Alto and Cupertino).

But change may be imminent. “I think with no space in the city, the Tenderloin must be next,” says Andrea Funsten, the program manager at Tumml, an urban ventures accelerator in San Francisco. “There may be nowhere else to go.”

During a 2010 Q&A with writer Jonathan Lethem about her book Just Kids, musician Patti Smith remarked on how Manhattan’s East Village was grimier and more bohemian when she lived there in the 1960s.

Today, her East Village is populated with high-rise condominiums, a Patagonia boutique, even a Whole Foods.

“New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling,” says Smith. Her advice: “Find a new city.”

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