Home > Article > Ain’t With Being Broke

I know we’re not talking about London, but: one of the eight St. Paul’s studios in London at Barons Court, specifically built for painters in the 1890s, sold in 2012 for around $2 million. It would be worth a lot more now.

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.


Art Pena outside his studio in Dallas

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.

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 9.55.08 AM

Fuzzy pic, but this could work. Oak Cliff: $995 plus bills, and hope your credit is good enough to pass muster.

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.

also by Christina Rees
Print Friendly

31 Responses

  1. Peter Ligon

    I thought that about the multi-story apt at I-75 and Blackburn when they were building it, it was all wood frame. I didn’t know they built frame apts that tall.

    1. Christina Rees

      Yes! Some new huge apartment complexes along Stemmons, and also at Good- Latimer are all wood-stick-buit too. They’re just giant matchboxes. I was adrenalized just watching them go up.

  2. Kay

    Ok…Waco does not have much of a art community (but they have everything else!). However, it is driving distance to Austin and Dallas. You really don’t have to live where the galleries are.

  3. Haven’t you heard? Baltimore is the new Brooklyn.

    I hear from friends that costs in Houston are too on the rise, with artists being forced out of the inner loop area.

    Fifteen years ago I left for the East Coast, wanted to buy a place and could not afford anything in the Houston Heights even then. (though in retrospect it would have been a great investment). I settled on Baltimore, MD—because of its location between NYC, Philly, and D.C. and the cost of living here is amazingly low. And the art scene, with its lack of commercial galleries, had a decidedly weird and independent verve.

    There are no less then 8 colleges and universities both employing and turning out artists. The only problem was there was a post school “brain drain” with the younger artists as they quickly went to Brooklyn or Philly. All that has changed over the past 7 years and Baltimore is now a preferred location, due to all the reasons I moved here. It also has many very large warehouse spaces waiting to transformed, affordable house to transform and a number of areas in the city that are state dedicated “arts districts” that offer tax relief and other perks. The “brain drain” has stopped and a reverse flow from Brooklyn is starting to occur.

    The current art scene in Baltimore reminds me of the mid-80’s-90’s seminal explosion in the arts in Houston, with the founding of many new alt spaces, and a plethora of sudden funding from major foundations. There is also a strong sociopolitical aspect to work here, given the nature of the local issues regarding race and class as shown in the recent unrest.

    As a liberal state, compared to Texas’s ultra conservatism Maryland also provides a much greater social safety net.

    I am not hating on Houston/Dallas—I still miss the specific vitality the region manifests.

    But if you want a change and money is an issue—well…. Baltimore is the new Brooklyn.


    1. Christina Rees

      Yes. How much would a good old two-bedroom house cost to rent in an artist-friendly neighborhood in Baltimore? Does one need a car there?

      There are a lot of building landlords in Dallas who are just sitting on their great old properties and not renting to artists (or anyone)–the kind people who would fix the buildings up and help re-establish communities. This degree of stubbornness doesn’t make business sense at all.

      1. Some fast research shows an average purchase price of about 100,000 for some amazing homes. It is currently a buyers market.


        Rents vary widely for 2 bedroom pats—maybe 1000 being middle. Average rents for 2 bedrooms are listed at $1341. Which seems high to me. I think average would be 1000.00


        I used to own but now rent so I can easily move to whatever district with the public school I want my kid in. (something else artists have to consider if they have kids—cost of education)

        But the real action and deals are the many warehouses still waiting to be occupied and refurbished. This is being done by individuals/collectives first but the city, which lost a large percent of its population and thus tax base through out the late 60’s, up to recently knows a good thing when it sees it and is very supportive. This article is from 2010, and I would say the action has doubled since then.


        Also the rowhouse is a good buy in many East Coast inner city areas, great to refurbish. East Coast rowhouses are different than their Southern counterparts. They are all built in a block as one, and have a front “stoop” and a small back patch of a yard.


        One other area which has not yet been considered much is the just out of the metro city and consist of buildings that once had workshops of various types and are now abandoned—places like old gas stations, They often have upstairs living space, and once cleared make excellent sculpture studios due to concrete flooring and high ceilings. Very little urban renewal was ever done in Baltimore, so these places are just sitting all around boarded up.

        Regarding transportation. Public transport ant is spotty, run late, and needs work. A just cut east to west light rail would have helped. Many young people do the bike thing (as the city itself is quite small—but I would not call it bike friendly. So, yes in the right districts you can live without a car but for most folks to live and work a car is needed. Though you don’t have long drives. 20 minutes from East to West, or North to South.

        1. Oh yeah—and I still pay 250.00 my studio here— large in an old warehouse— same size and price for a similar studio I had in Houston 20 years ago. Now that is something.

  4. Ah, c’mon, guys! What about Lubbock! (But, really…it’s cheap.) There are some decent galleries, and it gives the artist an auspicious air of being hardy enough to handle the wind and dirt…one hopes.

  5. James

    Most artists I know are just carrying a higher percentage of income as rent. 40K a year for $1000 a month in rent? Try $1550 on 28K! But, that is for a rare live/work space in Houston…

    Unfortunately, everything seems to be going up as people embrace city centers over suburbia, but I’m often surprised at how little is saved by moving out of the city center when renting– at least, when I compare rents to others’ I know.

    Small cities like smithville and the like keep on looking better and better, especially if your practice allows you to work from an island.

  6. Steve

    i could not believe what I was reading, so I read it 3 more times just to make sure I wasn’t missing something. The takeaway from this article seems to me that your position is that rent should be cheaper if you’re an artist? That “if artists can’t piece together a living because their cities can’t give back to them in terms of stimulation” aka money for their art, it’s because that city has “an underdeveloped cultural environment ” ???? Are you kidding?? Could it be that the art just doesn’t appeal to anyone because it isn’t good work?? Cities aren’t working against anyone developing as an artist. The only person standing in the way is the one making excuses vs making things happen.

    1. Thanks for you gritty, can-do, tough-love advice. But artists are, across the board, poorer than many other people. So the irony is that cities often want artists or an art scene, particularly in distressed neighborhoods, because they make said neighborhoods more attractive for richer residents. And when I say cities “want”, I mean that they pay for it by offering incentives for art institutions to locate in neighborhoods that they want to see developed. But when they are successful in making a neighborhood more desirable, they have the unintended effect of pushing artists out due to higher rents.

      Since cities are already incentivizing institutions to locate in distressed neighborhoods, why not incentivize artists as well? It’s not about whether a particular artist is successful or “good.” It’s about a policy that makes a neighborhood a better place to live because there are a lot of artists in it. If a county pays $200,000/year in live/work rent subsidies for artists in a neighborhood but collects an additional $500,000 in property taxes, that would be a good investment.

      Having said this, I have no idea if this would actually work and if so, how it would be implemented, But it seems like the kind of policy that could be beneficial both to artists and to municipalities.

    2. islandofmind

      To say that we have an “underdeveloped cultural environment” isn’t a stretch imo it’s a fact. It’s demonstrated by the blank stares I get upon mention of my habit of buying/collecting art. People here don’t, in general, appreciate art the way they might in other places. They could be better educated but they’re not. I’ve been to homes with mass-production prints from Target or Wal-Mart on display so people do want adornments on their walls but they don’t understand/appreciate/value the unique and the distinct which can be had for just a little more money. I buy and enjoy art at a modest level commensurate with my income, affordable for more than half the households in Houston which are counted in 7 figures at this point. If artists got priced out of town it would be a real and lasting shame because it would assure that our cultural environment would cease to develop and begin to stagnate.

  7. Enrique

    I always find it amusing when people complain about affordability in Houston. While you may not be able to afford living in yuppie areas like Montrose, Heights, Rice Military, or even EaDo these days, and so on. It’s like people forget that there are also areas such as OST, Near Northside, Fifth Ward, Wayside, Gulfgate, Pinevalley, and the Eastern part of Second Ward. So maybe you can’t walk to your favorite bar and order an old fashion or your favorite organic based cocktail, but $500 rents area easily feasible in these areas. Even some amazing warehouse spaces still on the cheap. All are within a half mile of the light rail and still a stones throw from Downtown. People tend to ask me “yea well but are those areas safe?”, well it just depends how scared you are of hispanics and black people. For some reason people are often terrified when they see no white faces in sight. But safe? Of course, granted you have a bit of common sense. Which I know can be hard to come by these days.

    1. islandofmind

      You don’t address the problem. Rents are increasing and people, artists among them, are forced to relocate. The critical mass created by a community of artists is disrupted in the process. All the places named in your first list were once “affordable” now prices are reaching the absurd. What would lead me to believe that the places in your second list won’t be in the same state in a decade or less?

      1. Robert

        I TOTALLY agree with Enrique, and yes, islandofmind, you are right too, however, at least you have another decade of affordability. If purchasing instead of renting can be cobbled together, then you have some hedge against rising rents. There are certainly affordable places to buy too. An article on time capsule houses in the Chronicle last week featured a cool, architect designed mid-century modern 3 bedroom 2 bath that a guy picked up in Glenbrook Valley for about $100k. His total house note, even with the most minimal down payment, will be very affordable. Park Place, Garden Villas, Meadowcreek Village, Glenbrook Valley, Gulf Freeway Oaks, there are plenty of decent neighborhoods out here that are still affordable.

  8. Brent

    IMO she means Dallasite culture doesn’t care much about art, good or bad, resulting in less economic opportunity for artists and making it harder for them to rationalize living here instead of art friendly Austin. Maybe delete “This cost-of-living spike shouldn’t be happening in Texas cities” because it just is happening.

  9. Renting studio space is always a problem but I have been so lucky in Dallas (1988-1996 Routh and Ross streets, 1996-2000 (4th st near Lamar in Austin) and 2002 to present 2711 Main St in Houston. Dallas was such a great old tin and brick building where I had a 2nd floor studio of 500 sq ft for 250 a month plus elec which was approx $40 a month. It is now a high rise in the “ARTS DISTRICT” where we could never get anyone down there, in the middle of the city.
    Austin was a great old space (no airconditioning) around Lamar and 4th called Trax where I had for the last couple of years, 600 sq feet for not much more and survived breast cancer while working there as well as moving to another great space off MLK, around the corner from Flatbed Press. That studio was probably the best as it was near a great art venue and also housed the old Austin Visual Arts which gave us access to patrons from their shows. That space has also been redeveloped.
    I am now at Art Square Studios on Main (Art Supply) and have worked there for at least 12 years. Again fairly large space, reasonable rent and shared electric. Since it is in Midtown who knows. High rises seem to follow me.
    My Point is that there are spaces out there so keep on investigating. Work up your list of needs and what you can live without. If you really want and need a studio you will find it if you are reasonable with your demands. If you have to get a job, like I have for several of my artist years, do so. You just have TO NEED IT THAT BAD AND IT WILL COME!!!!

  10. Jim Pirtle

    I view this as a generational issue. Many of my art friends bought homes or property prior to 1996 in Heights, 6th Ward and Montrose. Those areas were not seen as desirable neighborhoods and could be bought for prices between 20 and 40K. After ’96 the real estate boom began in NYC (Williamsburg) and Houston and L.A., artists who did not act before that year lost the chance to own and pay property taxes.
    Young Artists need to get out of the Heights/Montrose mindset if they want deals. Take a risk and pioneer outside established comfort zones. I bought in downtown when it was considered unlivable and Main street was closed down porno theaters. But my advice is to own and not rent and try to find several like minded friends to buy at the same time and begin a new neighborhood of creative types. Landlords love you improving their property on your money and sweat and vision then jacking up your rent when “the neighborhood turns”

    1. Troy Schulze

      “Landlords love you improving their property on your money and sweat and vision then jacking up your rent when ‘the neighborhood turns'”

      That’s exactly what happened to me in Third Ward, Jim. We made some improvements to the top-floor of a duplex. Landlord said we were his best tenants ever, and then he raised the rent from $850 to $1400. Buying a place is definitely on the agenda.

    2. Michael A. Morris

      I understand this logic, but the reality for many artists like myself is that no one in their right mind would loan us money to buy anything. Being saddled with 100k in student debt, I couldn’t even take out a loan to buy a USED car without a co-signer. If I can get into a better position than adjunct teaching, maybe someday I can look at buying a house without having to rely on a partner less-in-debt than myself, but why the fuck would we want to continue to participate in this cycle of gentrification? I’m not sure we have a good alternative, but I’m sick of being in the position of “re-establishing neighborhoods” by contributing to making them too expensive for their current, non-artist residents. I had a man spit on me in Bushwick because he saw me as a hipster-gentrifier, and he’s right about my complicity in the cycle, but I’m trapped in it just as much as he is.

      There has to be a better and more creative solution to these problems. As artists, we’re trained to critically examine all aspects of a situation and build our own contexts. There’s a way to make our own rules here. Not saying I know what that is yet, but something has to change.

  11. Patrick

    I have a question for local artists. My wife and I have a 2000 sq ft house in Montrose a few blocks from the Menil that we would consider converting to four or five art studio spaces. The house is old but fully functional, not a falling-down dump by any means, and is on a quiet street.

    What is the going rate for studio space (per sq ft) in this area? We only need to cover costs, as we plan to demolish and rebuild at some point in the future.



  12. Dion Laurent

    I rented and showed in Winter Street Studios back in 1997 and soon decided instead to buy an old schoolhouse out in the countryside, replete with a few very aggressive local rednecks. And just three years ago we bought a little house in the first ward, and were welcomed to the neighborhood with 2 kicked in doors and 4 different thefts during the first year. Pioneers can settle anywhere, and after moving around from rented, loaned and subsidized studios around the world, buying was the only card in my deck, and it is worth it. I worked on the schoolhouse deal for a few years, and I searched extensively for 2 years in Houston before jumping on the first ward property. There are always deals for those that want to buy just as there is an advantage for some that rent in the studio complexes. Either way, you will be paying the increasing taxes and someone’s increasing note. May as well be your own along with well earned sweat equity. Art House 101 – Search often, buy low, get title insurance, and homestead it. See these links for searching: http://www.har.com/mapsearch or http://www.zillow.com . For the country crib time waster: http://www.landandfarm.com/ , and for warehouses: http://www.loopnet.com/ (register), oh, and this one: https://www.homepath.com/

    Sure, Van Gogh painted 70 paintings in his last 70 days before Dr. Gachet shot him in the stomach for hitting on his daughter, but that is what happens to artists who paint 70 paintings in 70 days. They die. This all reminds me of that famous artist that stated many years ago that nothing much has changed for artists. Art is essential to society, but individuals do not have to own the art, nor pay the artists to experience it whether it appeals to them or not. Blame it on the smart phone.

  13. Sarah Smith

    A little know arts community in Texas is Bell County, between Austin and Waco. University of Mary Hardin Baylor has an outstanding fine arts program. And actually, Baylor Univ in Waco has a very fine art faculty, though a bit restricted by the Southern Baptist Convention (they cannot offer unclothed models for life drawing or serve alcohol at gallery opening receptions). Anyway, Waco, Belton, Temple and surrounding area (just out of the “Hill Country”) are all within an easy drive to the big cities of Texas and lack the crazy, spiraling upward housing costs.

  14. RA Caut

    Artists are not the only niche to have affordable housing problems. Read an article in TexMonthly last year written by a Hou. Heights resident and she was wondering if they would be able to stay in their home as PROPERTY TAXES kept
    rising. There has been for several years now, a slow trickle of people leaving Houston because of rising prop taxes. Peole who grew up here but saw their prop taxes rise steeply and they were no longer able to afford the taxes. Remember-renters pay prop taxes too!. Vote accordingly. Listened to a radio story last year about an Austin artist complaining she could no longer afford to live in the city she loved. She also admitted to voting YES to everything the “I -wannas” proposed in previous elections. Google this:
    ” Austin artist cannot afford to live in Austin ” .

Leave a Reply

Funding generously provided by: