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An Affordable Artist Community in Chicago, Illinois

Three-story brick apartment building with cars parked in front.
An older three-story brick building and a new three-story structure separated by a sidewalk.
Ground-level view of the corner of a three-story brick historic building.
Large room with tables, chairs, and artwork along a wall.
An art gallery with paintings and sculptures.
Room with people gathered and art displayed on tables and walls.


Home > Case Studies > An Affordable Artist Community in Chicago, Illinois


An Affordable Artist Community in Chicago, Illinois


Pullman Artspace Lofts, an affordable housing community in Chicago’s South Side, is the Pullman neighborhood’s first new multifamily housing development in more than 60 years. Opened in 2019, the project consists of two renovated historic structures and one new building. The campus includes 38 live/work lofts, a gallery, and workspaces for residents and neighborhood artists. Stantec, the architect, won a 2023 Charter Award from the Congress for the New Urbanism for Pullman Artspace Lofts because of the project’s adaptive reuse, neighborhood revitalization, and affordability components.

Developing an Artist Community

The town of Pullman, Illinois, the first planned industrial community in the United States, was founded in 1880 by the Pullman Palace Car Company. Employees of the rail car manufacturer lived and worked in Pullman, which the city of Chicago eventually annexed. The neighborhood has attracted many artists ever since George Pullman, the company’s founder and namesake, brought them to the town from around the world. In 2010, residents formed PullmanArts, a nonprofit community group promoting Pullman’s artistic roots. This grassroots organization partnered with Artspace, a national nonprofit developer of affordable artists’ housing, to create affordable residences where artists could live and work. In 2012, the nonprofits began community engagement efforts, conducting 80 public meetings and community events, including a design contest, and engaging nearly 400 Pullman residents in the process. Community members expressed support for live/work spaces for artists and their families.

PullmanArts partnered with Artspace and Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI), a community developer, to acquire two vacant historic buildings and convert them into an artist community. Originally constructed in the 1880s as housing for Pullman employees, these abandoned structures had been neglected for many years. The buildings required substantial rehabilitation, and, because they were listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the developer had to adhere to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties in its rehabilitation of the buildings. The development team restored historic interior stairwells, replaced the flooring, and replicated the historic windows, doors, and porches. The team was able to retain most of the buildings’ original woodwork and restore the brick exteriors to their original appearance. The developers also constructed a third building, resembling the original two in appearance and scale, on an adjacent vacant parcel. Ann Alspaugh, co-founder of PullmanArts, said that the opening of Pullman Artspace Lofts "increased our existing artist community, provided much-needed gallery space, and restored these two historic buildings to their original splendor."

Living at Pullman

The 38 live/work lofts at Pullman Artspace Lofts are reserved for households earning between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income. Interested residents are interviewed by a selection committee consisting of artists and Artspace staff and submit a portfolio of their work. Applicants are evaluated based on their commitment to their art rather than the perceived quality of their work. Committee members ask candidates to explain the method and intent of their work; what equipment they use; how long they have been engaged; and how, specifically, they will contribute to the community.

The development consists of a mix of studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments across the three 3-story buildings. With high ceilings and tall windows that admit natural light, the units were designed as artist studios. Residents can request permission to modify their unit to accommodate their artistic practice. The common hallways are wide to allow residents to easily transport their supplies. Several restaurants, big-box stores, public parks, and the Pullman Visitor Center are within a half-mile of the apartments. Pullman Artspace Lofts are a 10-minute walk from a commuter rail station offering direct service to downtown and the University of Chicago.

A Community for Artists

Pursuant to the initial agreement to have a public gallery and workspace for neighborhood residents, PullmanArts manages approximately 2,000 square feet of community gallery space. The space features various events and exhibitions throughout the year, some hosted by PullmanArts and others run by individual artists, who can rent the space for a low fee. The public-facing gallery features works by Pullman residents and other artists from the broader South Side of Chicago. "As one of the only gallery spaces on the city’s far South Side, a large part of our mission is to highlight work from artists who otherwise often have trouble finding suitable space for their work close to home," explained PullmanArts vice president Soren Spicknall. Artists might exhibit in the form of large solo shows, group exhibitions, vendor markets, and teaching workshops. Below-market commission fees make it easier for residents to display their work. The area also has art classrooms, working studios, and an outdoor space used for music and dance performances.

Although most residents have separate full-time jobs, Pullman provides a space for artists to focus more on their work. "Oftentimes we have found that artists with limited income may face the difficult decision between securing stable, affordable housing and pursuing their artistic passion," said Kimberly Moore, director of asset management for Artspace. "By offering stable quality housing at an affordable rate, we work to create an environment where artists can thrive alongside fellow creatives. We strive to create a supportive community where artists feel secure, knowing that our spaces were purposefully designed to be affordable and cater to their needs."


Most of the funding for the $19 million development came from low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) equity (table 1). Another $1 million in equity was generated from federal historic rehabilitation tax credits. An additional $400,000 came from Illinois Affordable Housing Program donation credits. Like the federal-level LIHTC program, the Illinois Affordable Housing Program provides one-time state income tax relief equivalent to 50 percent of the developer’s investment. IFF, a community development financial institution, provided a mortgage, and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago and philanthropic entities supplied additional funding.

Table 1. Financing for Pullman Artspace Lofts

Low-income housing tax credit equity $13,062,000
Federal historic rehabilitation tax credit equity 1,194,000
Illinois Affordable Housing Program donation credits 391,000
Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago Affordable Housing Program 570,000
Philanthropic grants 1,734,000
IFF mortgage 858,000
Other 1,175,000
Total $18,984,000

Community Impact

The development of Pullman Artspace Lofts also positively impacted the surrounding community. The development helped rejuvenate this long-empty city block while attracting new investment to the neighborhood. "Pullman and its surrounding area had long been disinvested, but once you can get the ball rolling, other investments come too," Alspaugh said. She explained that the success of Pullman Artspace Lofts eased the way for neighboring developments to attract funding. CNI recently developed a 180-acre, mixed-use industrial and commercial complex just north of Pullman Artspace Lofts that has created approximately 1,500 jobs.



The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.