haverfordave
Photo: Dan Spinelli / The Daily Pennsylvanian

A $7.5 million, 20-unit apartment complex is set to welcome its first tenants to 4050 Haverford Avenue next month — and this is particularly good news if you’re a local artist. 

After nearly a decade of planning and construction, 4050 Haverford will offer all residents, regardless of occupation, units with one to three-bedrooms at significantly discounted rental rates. During the application period, however, priority housing was given to those who could demonstrate that they are actively working as artists in the city.

The People’s Emergency Center financed 4050 Haverford in response to rising home values. PEC works to “revitalize [the] West Philadelphia neighborhood,” according to the organization's website, especially as it pertains to providing low-income housing.

Home prices rose 12.6 percent in the University City district and 5.8 in the West Philadelphia district during the last year, according to the Drexel University Lindy Institute. Meanwhile, Philadelphia home prices climbed to their highest level since the 2007 housing bubble, and are projected to mount even higher.

Keenan Bennett, a graduate student at the School of Design, considered living in 4050 Haverford. Although Bennett ultimately decided not to apply, he is grateful for the help 4050 Haverford is providing other artists. He said career artists are in desperate need of large, but affordable spaces where they can work.

“It’s difficult to find enough space to do work in the city,” Bennett said. “I remember that I could only afford this studio apartment that was one room with a kitchen in there … It wouldn’t be unusual for me to wake up with a pile of screws right next to my head on my pillow.”

Bennett added that it is often difficult for local artists, and especially art students, to make a living wage while focusing on their work.

“If you’re a starting artist, you’re buying your own materials, and often you don’t sell your work,” he said. “So when you put your money into your practice, and that’s a big chunk of money.”

Not everyone feels as positively about the apartments.

Penn Design City and Regional Planning Department Chair John Landis said he worries what prioritizing artists means for other residents displaced by rising home values and gentrification. He understands artists' financial struggles but said developers shouldn’t be deciding who’s fit to live in a certain area.

“My concern about this is that I’m not sure why artists should have a right to live in West Philadelphia or any other place, while other groups shouldn’t,” Landis said. “Why are we saying that artists are so incredibly valuable to a city or a place, but school teachers are not, or maybe nurses are not?”

“You’re suddenly saying one group of people is more valuable than another,” Landis added. “I’m worried where that takes you, and I’m worried who’s making those determinations.”

While Bennett said he recognizes that other residents bring value to the city, he emphasized the crucial role of art. 

“Everyone brings something to the city in their own way … but I can imagine a city without artists would be really drab, maybe more depressing, maybe less thoughtful,” Bennett said. “If there were more spaces that opened up like 4050 Haverford, that would be a huge asset to the city of Philadelphia.”

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