I found myself in a late-night conversation recently, in Houston, with some locals whose full-time jobs are in the visual arts. We were talking about which Houston neighborhoods were affordable, and one of the people asked me if Dallas rents were affordable at this point, and I said, emphatically: No. Dallas is expensive now. The housing stock for buyers has dried up, and this spiked the rents in the last two to three years. I said: You should assume that an even halfway decent place costs a thousand bucks a month, plus bills. I should have said twelve hundred. I didn’t mean the suburbs, I meant inside the loop, but I could have meant a lot of DFW suburbs, too.*
The Houstonian then insisted that she’d never paid more than $500 for monthly rent, not in her life, and someone else in the conversation said that Houston rents had gone up too, but then the first person said that she’d just as soon move to Bushwick than shell out $1000 for rent in a city like Dallas or Houston. (I said: Good luck with that.)**
I’ve been looking around for office space in Dallas and thought it might be nice to have it double as a place, for a few months, that my husband and I can shack up in while we’re getting some much-needed work done on our house, so: a place that’s somewhat domestic as well. I’m stunned by rent prices right now, and I know how to deal with my city. “Halfway decent place” is subjective, but most grown-up, creative people I know with jobs and deadlines need working plumbing and electricity, heat and a/c, a place to park a car or truck, a kitchen table to sit around with friends to get blotto. Art is communal, even if you live alone. Artists have their preferred neighborhoods for good reason. Artists often have kids, and dogs and cats, and supplies and flat files, and books and pots and pans, so space is an issue. They need studios to work in. This turns into a whole other cost issue if a living space can’t accommodate art making—and it shouldn’t have to.
This is all basic quality of life stuff, and an aesthetic choice. Artists don’t live in all the new, gauche apartment developments—“in town”—thousands of them, built recently for business-school sorority and frat types who might not know that their complex is a tinderbox that would take all of five minutes to burn to the ground. Efficiencies in those complexes might cost $950, but artists, and the trust-fund kids who follow them around, have standards, and artists actually notice that as these apartments are being built that there’s not a single steel beam or concrete pillar in the whole behemoth.
Creative people will live in a 100-year old hovel though, but landlords know what well-located or charmingly scruffy hovels are worth. So Dallas is affordable compared to New York, yes, but Dallas is no longer affordable compared to Dallas. Five years ago, seven years ago, some of us were trying to persuade artists in other more expensive cities to move to Dallas because it was affordable and had a growing scene. But I can’t say that to people in good faith anymore.
The Houston cheapskate I was talking to has a point. This cost-of-living spike shouldn’t be happening in Texas cities if artists can’t piece together a living here, because their cities can’t give enough back to them, in terms of stimulation, to make the growing misery worth it. What’s the point of dealing with the compromises built into an underdeveloped cultural environment if your standard of living isn’t a lot higher than it would be in the big art cities? Here, if you haven’t hopped on the property-owning ladder prior to 2005 (one of the promises of living in flyover country), you might be locked out of affordability indefinitely.
Many artists in their local scenes in Texas drive from one end of their region to another for their cobbled-together, underpaid adjunct teaching jobs, art-handling jobs, their shared studio spaces, their shitty apartments and rent houses that they make work for them, barely. It speaks to the necessity of keeping a network active, because art-friendly apartments and studios get passed around and along; you find your hidden deals through your network. But those ties take time to establish.
Artists are, if anything, resourceful, and famously able to deal creatively with poverty. Still, as I figure it, a working artist in Dallas or Houston would have to make, before taxes (and including some credit card or student loan debt) about $40K a year to live in a place that costs $1000 per month, given their other bills and expenses, and if that house or apartment doesn’t have space that can work as an art studio, then even $40K probably isn’t enough. Not without roommates. Austin is more expensive still, and San Antonio—the charmer— seems to grant a little more wiggle room. Move to San Antonio.
Or move to Waco!
(No offense to Waco.)
*(This, compared to pretty nice spaces for around $500 a month back in 2000.)
**(As of last night, there were precisely two apartments in Bushwick for rent on Streeteasy— the comprehensive site for listings in NYC—for between $1000-$1250. One was a 100 square foot “shared space”*** and the other was communal as well.)
***Actual listing description: This living space is not for the ordinary. Leave all your excess stuff (and your ‘ex’) because they won’t fit! This is a high end ROOM with SHARED KITCHEN / DINING areas. Perfect for travelers, flight attendants and students but all are welcome.