Big Car launches affordable home-ownership program for artists

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The arts-focused Big Car Collaborative is expanding its reach in the south-side Garfield Park neighborhood by purchasing 10 homes in a program to provide affordable housing for artists.

Founded in Fountain Square in 2004 and once headquartered near Lafayette Square Mall, the not-for-profit established a new home base last March in Garfield Park. That’s when Big Car opened Listen Hear at 2620 Shelby St. and the nearby Tube Factory art space at 1125 Cruft St.

Now, the first two homes in the program, on Cruft Street near the factory, are almost ready for occupancy. Big Car plans to accept applications until April 14 and ultimately hopes to have all 10 homes occupied in its quest to help improve the neighborhood.

Under the program, an approved artist would co-own a home with Big Car and pay only half the cost of the property. If the artist leaves, the collaborative would buy his or her portion and return the house to the program at the same cost level to ensure it remains affordable, regardless of whether neighborhood property values rise.

jim walker mugJim Walker

“It’s kind of subsidizing the property long term,” Jim Walker, Big Car’s executive director, told IBJ. “But it’s a long-term investment in the community and the artists.”

Big Car bought the homes with Riley Area Development Corp., which received a grant from the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership to purchase them. The two are working with the Garfield Park Neighbors Association, in addition to a team of builders, contractors and architects, to renovate the vacant houses.

Ursula David’s Indy Mod Homes teamed with Axis Architecture on one of the two homes ready for occupancy, and Gibson Construction renovated the other. The houses are between Shelby Street and Interstate 65.

The vacant homes were purchased mostly from private owners for $20,000 to $25,000 and will be valued in the $80,000 to $100,000 range when finished, Walker said. Many of the partners in the program are providing their renovating services at no cost.

Big Car and Riley bought five of the homes from an owner who lives in Boca Raton, Florida, helping to cut down on the time and effort it took to track down property owners.

“They didn’t have any interest in the property,” Walker said. “To them, it was just an address in Indiana.”

Some of the houses have been vacant longer than others and need more work to become habitable. One of the homes almost ready for ownership had squatters living in it, Walker said.

Big Car wants to get at least six ready for the homeownership program, while possibly reserving four as rentals for artists who might not qualify for a home loan. Six homes targeted for ownership, and one potential rental, are on Cruft Street; three others are on Nelson Avenue one block to the south.

Artists selected for the housing program will have access to the Tube Factory’s wood and metal workshops, and will be expected to participate in neighborhood activities. Homes purchased by artists will have small studio spaces included in the designs.

Artists eligible to apply for the program don’t necessarily need to be painters or sculptors. They can be fashion designers, writers or performing artists, for instance, Walker said, to provide for a wider array of disciplines and to allow the artists to collaborate on neighborhood projects.

On April 5, ahead of the April 14 deadline, Big Car will host an informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Tube Factory. About 20 artists so far have inquired about the program, Walker said.

“We hope that this can be a model that can be replicated somewhere else,” he said.

Big Car purchased the Listen Hear and Tube Processing buildings as a first step to improving the neighborhood.

Listen Hear is housed in a former appliance repair shop on the Shelby Street corridor and focuses on “sound art.” The Tube Factory is less than a block away. The 12,000-square-foot building was built in 1908 and was most recently owned by Tube Processing Corp., hence the name. It includes workshops and exhibition and meeting spaces.

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