City Council approves resolution for artist community in southeast Austin

Elizabeth Huang

A 9.4-acre tract of land In Southeast Austin could soon become a new community for Austin artists.

On Thursday, City Council approved a resolution to partner with the nonprofit organization Artspace to develop land at 4711 Winnebago Lane for a live/work community for artists. According to the Artspace website, most live/work projects are buildings with housing on the upper floors and non-residential space on the lower floors.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said she proposed the resolution because of rising housing prices.

“The rising costs in Austin are hitting people who are trying to live here but also people who are trying to work here as artists or musicians,” Tovo said. “They are increasingly losing their workspaces, and so there might be something we are able to do as a city on city-owned land to help that need.”

Engineering professor Kara Kockelman said there are various advantages to this housing setup.

“Having first-floor commercial with residential above is a terrific way to design vital, sustainable, active urban centers,” Kockelman said. “It reduces travel distances dramatically and encourages human interaction. It is a healthy approach for many households and settings.”

The live/work housing could not only benefit the artists but also the neighboring area by attracting more businesses, assistant architecture professor Junfeng Jiao said.

Artspace live/work projects are also beneficial to artists because they are cheaper than traditional apartments. Artspace units are affordable to households earning at or below 60 percent of the area median income of the city or county in which the project is located, according to the Artspace website.

Assistant architecture professor Jacob Wegmann said live/work housing could be an answer to Austin’s housing problem.

“Austin desperately needs a much wider variety of housing types to meet the needs of its population,” Wegmann said. “Artists are one among many groups in Austin being affected by escalating housing prices and our collective failure to build enough of and sufficiently varied housing to meet the need.”

Assistant architecture professor Robert Young said it’s possible that the new live/work project could gentrify the surrounding area. 

“People and developers will follow the artists and force out the working poor. This is something that I’ve seen happen before,” Young said.

Young also questioned why this type of housing wasn’t more available.

“It’s always great to have affordable housing for artists, but what about the rest of Austin?” Young said.