People’s Emergency Center opening affordable housing for artists in West Philly

The 4050 Apartments in West Philadelphia offer low income housing with a preference to artists. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The 4050 Apartments in West Philadelphia offer low income housing with a preference to artists. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A new low-income housing development has been built in West Philadelphia’s Mantua neighborhood, designed specifically for artists.

The 20 apartments at 4050 Haverford Ave. were built by the People’s Emergency Center, a community development corporation that has built 270 housing units around the troubled neighborhood that recently has been seeing a lot of new construction.

The complex of 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom apartments cost about $7.5 million, much of it raised from public funds.

The apartments are intended for anybody whose income level qualifies them for public assistance housing. But during the application process the PEC prioritized artists.

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“Artists contribute to communities in creating spaces that are open to all sorts of people, especially in neighborhoods like this that are undergoing changes, rises in rent, new people moving into the community,” said project manager Stephanie Wall. “Artists really help create spaces where all those people can come together and engage.”

4050 housing artists 1 of 1-3 Future tenant and painter examines a unit similar to what her new home will be like in the 4050 apartments. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

There are few housing developments designed for people with particular professions or talents. The PEC had to create an extensive application process to answer the tricky question: What is an artist?

Prospective tenants were asked to submit samples of their work, letters of reference, and submit to an interview by a panel of artists and community members to determine if they are, in fact, working artists.

Regardless of kind of art or its quality, the People’s Emergency Center wanted to know that tenants intend to keep making it. Wall said tenants range from singers, to painters, to jewelry makers. Their income level determines the rent they pay.

One of those tenants will be Corrine Durant, a painter who now lives on the Temple campus with a roommate. She says it’s expensive, even with a roommate whom she often doesn’t get along with.

“With the roommate I had complaints — ‘Can you move your canvasses over here?’ And I’m like: ‘Nope,’” said Durant. “Here it’s all mine, and I can be alone and really get into my work.”

Durant saw her apartment for the first time at the ribbon cutting, oo-ing and ah-ing at the high ceilings, built-in washer and dryer, and stairs to a second-floor loft.

“Whoever thought of this is a genius,” she said. “Seriously. It’s very expensive to be an artist.”

4050 housing artists 1 of 1 The 20 units of the 4050 Apartments in West Philadelphia should be occupied by March. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The units were designed with artists in mind: lots of natural light, and flexible spaces that can be made into a workshop, studio, living area, or whatever space the tenant needs.

The apartment complex also has a communal room where artists are encouraged to show their work and engage with the neighborhood.

“It’s not a requirement they participate, but we made it clear we want them to use the community space,” said Wall.

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