Palmdale’s latest housing innovation: the Courson Arts Colony
The city of Palmdale won the 2020 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence in the Housing Programs and Innovations category. For more information about the award program, visit www.helenputnam.org.
The city of Palmdale rests along the north face of the picturesque San Gabriel mountains that define the southwestern point of the Mojave Desert, just northeast of Los Angeles. It is home to more than 150,000 people, with more than 400,000 people living in the area known as the Antelope Valley.
Historically, the neighborhoods surrounding Palmdale’s downtown had a high concentration of multifamily housing units that had served as the city’s primary stock of workforce housing, especially for those working in the aerospace industry.
In recent years, the city saw housing costs outpace the area’s income levels. Rents and occupancy increased as private investment groups purchased many of the area’s multifamily housing properties, creating a shortage of affordable housing in the area. The city began working with the community to come up with a solution.
“City housing staff met with community members, groups, and partners and we overwhelmingly agreed that not only did we need to house our homeless veterans and other homeless individuals, but we wanted to provide a greater quality of life,” said Palmdale Director of Neighborhood Services Mike Miller.
The result was the Courson Arts Colony, the latest component of Palmdale’s city center revitalization and housing innovation and is incorporated in the civic center three-block campus.
“Over the years, the area became run down, crime increased, and many families no longer found the area to be a desirable place to live,” said Palmdale Mayor Steven Hofbauer, who has served on the Palmdale City Council since 2003 and was elected mayor in 2018.
When the city began to revitalize the area in 1999, it started with construction of affordable housing for seniors and revitalizing 291 affordable housing units surrounding the Courson Park area.
“With the completion of the Courson Arts Colony, the city center now has two modern three-story affordable housing complexes providing 160 units for families and individuals earning 50 percent or less of the area median income,” said Palmdale City Manager J.J. Murphy. “Sixty of these units are permanent supportive housing apartments that will serve medically complex veteran and non-veteran households experiencing homelessness.”
The arts component of the project provides an artistic environment and serves as a healing element for veterans who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Classes and support staff are available to work with and encourage tenants to utilize the amenities and explore their artistic spirit.
“The Courson Arts Colony is designed as an arts-oriented community, with amenities meant to provide spaces to inspire a healthy, healing, and creative lifestyle,” said Miller.
Some of those amenities include a community clubhouse, game rooms, homework rooms, art and dance studios, computer and learning spaces, fitness center, bicycle repair and storage space, an art walk, and a fully functioning nonprofit art gallery.
“With the completion of the Courson Arts Colony, we have been able to create not only a beautiful place to live, but also a destination for Palmdale residents and visitors alike seeking a place to learn about and appreciate the visual and performing arts,” Miller noted.
Steven Fiche, a volunteer with Antelope Valley Art, the nonprofit that coordinates the gallery operation, believes that the gallery and the colony go a long way towards lifting the whole community of Palmdale, especially since many of the amenities are available to all residents.
“Along with a beautiful indoor art gallery, it also has an outdoor amphitheater, where all forms of artistic expression can find a home,” said Fiche. “By preserving this gallery space for the arts, residents and neighbors of the Courson Arts Colony have been given an opportunity to enjoy art and share their work with the broader community. An art gallery like this would have benefited me greatly when I was growing up in the area.”
One amenity located directly across the street from Courson Arts Colony, and completed just in time for the summer of 2020, is the newly renovated Courson Pool. Part of the renovations included pedestrian and cyclist friendly street improvements, such as designated bike lanes, up-graded bus stops, and pedestrian crosswalks with lighted crossing signals, to increase the safety of families and patrons who utilize the park, pool, and community theater across the street.
The overall budget for the Courson Arts Colony development was $72 million and consisted of multiple layers of financing. With Meta Housing as the developer, the city of Palmdale and its Housing Authority provided land and financial assistance to the project. Along with tax credit financing, Los Angeles and Mental Health America partnered with the developer to provide ongoing support services and assistance for veteran residents.
The completion of this revitalization took time and tremendous dedication from the city, community, and elected officials.
“The Courson Arts Colony is the culmination of a 20-year commitment from city staff and the community to revitalize the heart of Palmdale,” explained Mayor Hofbauer.
“It has been amazing to see the goals of the project achieved and to watch this neighborhood transform,” shared Palmdale Housing Manager Sophia Reyes. “We have worked hard to restore this neighborhood to what it represented in the past. Today, it is a place that residents are proud to call home.”
The city of Palmdale’s Courson Arts Colony was awarded the 2020 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence in the category of Housing Programs and Innovations by the League of California Cities at its annual conference in October 2020. The Courson Arts Colony also won the Southern California Association of Governments 2020 Sustainability Award, also in the Housing Innovation category.
Contact: City of Palmdale Neighborhood Services Director Mike Miller.