Report shows demand is high for affordable artist housing

Photo By Cheryl HehlThe old Elizabethtown Gas building on Central Avenue will likely become the site of affordable artist housing in Rahway.
Photo By Cheryl Hehl
The old Elizabethtown Gas building on Central Avenue will likely become the site of affordable artist housing in Rahway.

RAHWAY — A group planning to build affordable housing in Rahway for actors, artists and other creative professionals never expected the demand would be so great. Now it appears instead of 69 units, there is a need for up to 242.
The proposed plan for affordable artist housing is planned for the former Elizabethtown Gas building on Central Avenue.
The online marketing study drew interested artists from all over the metropolitan area and then some. One thing that was clearly evident from the response was 69 units of affordable one, two and three bedroom apartments will not be enough to satisfy the need out there.
“There is understandably strong demand for this housing in Rahway,” admitted Scott Weiner, president and CEO of the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the Actors Fund that works towards developing affordable, supportive and senior housing for the performing arts community.
Weiner presented a conceptual plan for the Rahway Residence for the Arts last week to the city redevelopment agency and was very optimistic about the results.
“We anticipated this kind of result which is why we presented this project and now we have the data behind it,” Weiner added, noting the demand went beyond affordable housing and toward actual market rate apartments.
The technical report submitted by AFHDC indicated the data they collected from the survey supported creation of up to 242 new, affordable housing units in Rahway for those in the visual and performing arts, as well as the entertainment and creative industries.
Saying this was a “very strong response,” the report mentioned that giving weight to the survey was the fact the respondents were familiar with the Actors Fund and it also helped that there was broad outreach among the arts for input.
Three-quarters of those responding to the survey, or 73 percent of the 1,072 respondents, were not aware of Rahway’s growing status as a developing center for the arts, while more than 83 percent never attended any type of city art event.
Respondents were a diverse group with one quarter 30 years of age or under while 43 percent were between the ages of 41 and 60. The majority, or 74 percent, were white, 12 percent black and 9 percent of Hispanic or Latino background.
When it came to the financial backgrounds of those interested in making their home in the arts district, 71 percent rent or lease and the remainder do not have the space they need for their art or are using space within their home.
Thirty-percent of responders have household incomes of $25,000 or less a year, with 24 percent having annual incomes of $65,000 a year.
Interestingly, more than 82 percent of those responding worked in New York City, and more than half currently live there. According to Weiner, 75 percent of those responding required parking but most only needed space for one vehicle, while fewer than two in five needed two spaces.
Regardless of their interest in relocating to Rahway, 68 percent of respondents were interested in more information about the project.
“This indicates to us broad, strong support for the project,” the report noted, but also suggested that ongoing communication “will be key in keeping respondents invested in the project and ultimately serve as a foundation for future leases.”
Redevelopment Agency Attorney Frank Regan said control of the property is a
critical element but also mentioned that things have not moved forward as quickly as they would have expected after appraisals by the Redevelopment Agency and Elizabethtown’s parent company, AGL Resources.
Last August Joseph Benincasa, president and CEO of The Actors Fund felt the project was more than needed, especially since the city wanted to establish itself as an arts district.
“We need to find ways to bring affordable living spaces to performing and visual artists who contribute so much to local economies while they work their craft,” he said in a statement last summer.
Responses to the survey certainly proved that Benincasa was on target. Whether that means the number of units will be increased is not known at this time. However, survey results indicated that the demographics are in line with what this type of resident is interested in finding.
Interestingly, 725 of the 1,072 respondents said they would relocate to an affordable housing development in the Rahway arts district. The housing will be developed and designed to meet the living and working needs of artists and others involved in the creative industry area.
Those interested in this type of housing were a diverse group, Weiner’s report noted, with 32 percent currently residing in north or central New Jersey and another 32 percent in Manhattan. Just 4 percent resided in Rahway.
A wide range of arts and creative activities were represented in their work, including acting, voice over, writing, literary arts, music, arts education or instruction, dance, choreography and directing. Approximately half of the interested respondents were members of a union or guild, belonging to the Actor’s Equity Association and 47 percent a part of the Screen Actor’s Guild or American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Only 12 percent belonged to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and 11 percent are members of the Directors Guild of America.
Last May a proposal for the arts district housing included 60 apartments — 40 one-bedroom, 14 two-bedroom and six three-bedroom units.
The existing two-story, 6,500-square foot building on a one-acre site would be incorporated into activity space while a four-story housing structure would house the apartments.
In 2011 the site generated a $30,000 tax bill based on an assessment of $496,400.