A new artist housing project near the State Center office complex is slated to open in the summer of 2019, with construction on the project scheduled to begin in May.
Baltimore-based developer Aziz Housseini is converting the former Home of the Friendless orphanage at 1313 Druid Hill Ave. into 17 apartment units, each designed for a specific type of artist.
Housseini said he recently filed for permits for the project, and hopes to begin gutting the 13,300-square-foot building this spring. The units, which consist of 16 one-bedroom apartments and one studio, will be specifically designed to fit the needs to certain types of artists, such as painters and graphic designers. Each apartment will come with a living area and a workspace.
For example, Housseini said painters’ units will have epoxy flooring in the work space, and racks installed on the walls to hang up works, while a graphic designer’s room will come with an extra large circuit breaker to handle any additional computers or monitors that need to be plugged in.
On the first floor, Housseini is building out a co-working space for the residents to gather and work together, as well as a small gallery space. The gallery space is going to be curated by New York-based studio Clark Priftis Art, and will feature rotating works.
Each unit will rent for between $1,200 and $1,300, he said, because he’s offering artists both living and work space.
“Say you live in Mount Vernon, but your studio space is on Howard Street. That means you have to pack up all of your stuff, schlep it down to the studio, and then bring it back if you want to work on it from home,” Housseini said. “This eliminates a lot of the back-and-forth and the extra cost of renting an apartment and a studio.”
Housseini has been consulting with the Maryland Institute College of Art on the project, soliciting ideas for what students are looking for. His specific target for the apartment building’s tenants are international graduate students attending MICA.
Many of those students, he said, cannot rent from traditional apartment operators because they don’t have a credit history in the U.S. To make up for this, Housseini’s only qualification for applying for the apartments will be an acceptance letter to MICA. He will also offer residents the ability to pay for their rent in a lump sum, in the event that their families from their country of origin are paying.
Other local artists may live in the building, as well, but Housseini said he heard from MICA officials that there is a need for art student housing in the city.
“I’ve been told that, because of the way artists work, their issue isn’t that things are too expensive or too cheap, it’s location,” he said.
Housseini purchased 1313 Druid Hill Ave. from the city in February 2017 for $306,000, state property records show, as part of the Vacants to Value program. The building was built in 1870 and operated as an orphanage for many years under a variety of different names. It has long been vacant, and was eventually taken over by the city and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Creating more artist housing and workspace in the city has become a popular concept since Mayor Catherine Pugh created the Task Force on Safe Arts Space in 2016. The group then released a report in December proposing a variety of ways the city can ensure artists are living and working in safe conditions while maintaining the affordability of those spaces.