By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
A city-commissioned survey of Laguna Beach artists found there is demand for up to 58 units of affordable artist housing—an outcome that city officials hope will nudge property owners in Laguna Canyon and downtown to pitch new developments where artists can live and work.
To better understand artists’ housing needs and unlock some solutions, Laguna Beach signed a contract in 2017 with Artspace, a national nonprofit artist housing developer. Artspace created an Arts Market Study that crunches data on the local housing market, the financial constraints of Laguna Beach artists, and where members of this community would prefer to live.
Teri Deaver, vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships at Artspace, said 366 artists responded to the survey and more than 50 percent of these respondents require housing that is $1,200 or less per month. It’s noteworthy that 42 percent of the survey respondents don’t live in Laguna Beach but said they would like to move into town if they had an affordable opportunity.
“We toured sites in Laguna Canyon and downtown to see what opportunities there would be for creating large-scale, small-scale, or other types of spaces and determined large-scale developments would not be appropriate,” Deaver said.
The Arts Commission prioritized three goals in the wake of the Arts Market Study:
- Identify underutilized storefronts and commercial buildings to repurpose for arts uses
- Develop and encourage multiple private and public-sector lead creative space initiatives
- Develop a multi-use and flexible Art Center to provide creative workspaces
To open new residential units to artists in a shorter timeframe, Deaver recommended that the city identify underutilized storefronts and commercial buildings to repurpose for art uses.
She also recommended that the city help property owners with artists living in non-permitted residential units with technical advice and funding programs to bring the units into compliance with city regulations.
Artists who live alone and earn up to $61,280 per year qualify for low-income housing because they only take in 80 percent of the average median income for Orange County households. According to Artspace, 71 percent of the artists who responded to its survey would fit in this income bracket.
The California Department of Housing and Urban development incentivizes developers to build affordable housing by providing Low Income Housing Tax Credits. Considering the relatively low income of Laguna Beach artists, a developer interested in building a project where creative residents could live and work would be eligible to apply for such tax breaks.
Greg Pfost, director of community development, said the Arts Market Study arrives at a convenient time when the city is working to finalize the Downtown Specific Plan. This plan would offer a roadmap for property owners and developers interested in building mixed-use or other artist residential projects. The city is also in the middle of assembling its 2021 Housing Element, a document that tells the state how Laguna Beach is planning for future housing demand.
When asked by Councilwoman Toni Iseman if the city could control who moves into an artist housing project that’s built with state funding, Pfost said the city wouldn’t be able to impose such restrictions.
Kathy Jones, a painter and board of member of the Festival of the Arts of Laguna Beach, said she was very supportive of the recommendations to help house the artist community.
“I’m just delighted to see the ideas that have come forward in this, because I think I’m such a believer in our eclectic, interesting, odd, keep-Laguna-weird community and those of us who are artists are part of the weird factor,” Jones said.
Siân Poeschl, cultural arts manager for Laguna Beach, said City Manager John Pietig will return to the City Council with