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Six months after opening, Elgin Artspace Lofts are nearly filled

Plenty art was display open house featuring ElgArtspace Lofts Saturday July 28 2012. | Sun-Times Media~File Photo

Plenty of art was on display at the open house featuring the Elgin Artspace Lofts on Saturday, July 28, 2012. | Sun-Times Media~File Photo

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Updated: May 23, 2013 6:05AM

ELGIN — If you’re an artist — or just someone who likes to be among artists — and are looking for a place to live in Elgin, you might be in luck.

There are still some spots available at the Artspace Lofts downtown.

While it opened last fall, three units remained unfilled as of last week, said Melodie Bahan, vice president of communications for the Minneapolis-based organization behind the project. That means the building currently has 52 of its 55 units rented and occupied by about 75 people, Bahan stated.

The $15.2 million effort to convert building, at 51 S. Spring St., had been in the works since 2007. The building started out in 1908 as a Sears and Roebuck store and later became Fountain Square Campus for Elgin Community College.

Construction to convert the building plus a three-story structure next store into a creative colony started in autumn 2011 and finished ahead of schedule. In addition to housing, the structure holds 5,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor along with community space — including a gallery — for use by the project’s residents.

Artspace oversees more than 30 projects across the country, including the Switching Station Artist Lofts on the west side of Chicago and the Karcher Artspace Lofts in downtown Waukegan.

According to Bahan, filling the Elgin site hasn’t been any more challenging than at any of the other Artspace properties.

“Elgin is a pretty typical lease-up situation for Artspace,” Bahan said. “Some properties have filled up faster, usually in communities where rental rates are high and affordable housing is scarce, like Santa Cruz, Calif. But other properties have taken longer to be fully occupied. Since Elgin was completed in October, we’re not really surprised at the pace. Given that most folks don’t like to move over the holidays or during winter, we expect the few remaining units to fill pretty soon. If spring ever arrives.”

Some hurdles

That, despite some paperwork hurdles tenants have to jump over.

“The income qualification rules for Section 42 housing require a tremendous amount of paperwork from applicants, including past tax returns,” Bahan stated. “For many folks, particularly artists who may have sporadic income, this can be a challenge.”

Section 42 refers to a part of the IRS tax code and is also known as Low Income Housing Tax Credits. Places taking advantage of them are required to meet certain Housing and Urban Development requirements that include having units available for residents with lower-than-median income. Such potential tenants also must meet HUD requirements.

According to a chart provided by Bahan, six units in Elgin are designated for those earning 30 percent or less of the Chicago metro area median income. Those units are all occupied. There currently is a waiting list for those dwellings, but Bahan did not know how long that list is.

Another 23 units are designated for those making up to 50 percent of the median, with 20 units for those making up to 60 percent of the median and six for those earning at or above the median income.

According to the city of Chicago website, the area median income for a single person is $51,600, and $73,600 for a family of four.

A rotating group of Elgin volunteers reviews the applications of those who want to live at Artspace. And a chart from Bahan notes, “the actual unit mix for the targeted units will depend on the needs of referred households.”

With all the different setups, the least anyone is paying for rent at Artspace is $440 a month for an 850-square-foot unit (of which there are three), and the most is $1,226 for a 1,732-square-foot apartment (of which there are two), according to the chart.

Other than income and standard background and credit checks, there are no other special qualifications for living in the building.

“No priority is given to current Elgin residents,” Bahan said. “The only preference is given to artists, but non-artists can certainly qualify.”

Range of artists

She estimated that between 15 and 20 units are occupied by people who already had lived in Elgin. The farthest someone has come to live at the Elgin complex has been 50 miles. According to Bahan, the age range for leaseholders is 18 to 76.

A source close to the Elgin arts community noted that a tenant already has been evicted for not paying rent.

“We cannot discuss individual tenant issues,” Bahan said when asked about the reported eviction.

There is a wide range of art with which the tenants are involved, from a senior citizen who is quilter to a young, single mother who is a photographer.

“It really runs the gamut,” Bahan stated. “We’ve got musicians, singers, a potter, painters, a choreographer, a graphic designer, a sculptor, and others.”

Aside from bringing residents downtown, another goal of the project is to draw people to the center city for arts-related events. To that end, the Elgin Artspace Lofts recently hosted “Calling All Robots” on a Friday night, along with an exhibit called “Home As Where the Art Is,” featuring Elgin, Chicago and Waukegan artists, and which ended Saturday.

For rental and other Artspace information visit

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