San Francisco examining ways to stem tide of artist displacement

Below-market-rate housing expressly for artists can’t come fast enough in San Francisco, where they, like many others, are being displaced amid the meteoric rise of real estate costs.

As plans for affordable artist housing are being developed, a new artist survey conducted by the Arts Commission during a recent six week period indicates the urgent need.

The results of the survey and other topics related to artist displacement was a focus of a meeting last week held by the Arts Commission, which is coming under increasing pressure to address the artist displacement issue.

Nearly 600 sculptors, painters, musicians, writers, filmmakers and painters responded. Seventy percent said they had been displaced or were being displaced from their homes, workplaces or both. Twenty-eight percent, or 125, said they were at risk of being displaced soon.

Thomas DeCaigny, executive director of the Arts Commission said he is conducting research for an affordable artist housing proposal under direction of Mayor Ed Lee in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

Last month, he visited Warehouse Artists Lofts development in Sacramento at 1108 R St., which is a 116-unit rental development for artists in a historic building.

“We have upcoming meetings with Artspace and some other national leaders in the area of affordable housing developments.” Ultimately a proposal would be provided to the Mayor’s Office for review and parcels would need to be identified.

During the meeting, Kathrin Moore, a planning commissioner, provided an overview of some of the planning issues impacting the artist community.

She began her remarks by first vividly describing the reality of the issue. “We are in a state of emergency with evictions and displacements not only of city residents but of occupants of PDR and artist space,” Moore said.

“It will be an uphill battle when the Titanic is partially sinking to develop tools which will immediately allow us to stop the process.”

Moore said that among the important steps the Planning Department is taking is to ramp up enforcement of city zoning laws related to Production, Distribution and Repair Zones, or PDR, which includes artist space.

“Tech office is enamored with the spaces traditionally used by artists and PDR,” Moore said, explaining the real estate pressures and need for stepped-up enforcement. Other efforts include possibly requiring ground floor PDR space in new office space in SoMa and an encouragement of seeing more innovative development such as recently approved Hundred Hooper, at 100 Hooper St., which has ground floor PDR space and office space above.

The survey also found that the artists were paying a median $1.40 per square foot for workspace, though some as high as $17.33 per square foot.

In the near term, the Arts Commission is calling on nonprofits to apply for creative work space grants by Oct. 15 to receive $50,000 to pay for things like a site search for artist workspace and $100,000 for building improvements for artist work spaces.

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