No Plans To Replicate Ryman Lofts, Nashville’s Subsidized Housing For Artists

Lily Hansen sits in her studio at Ryman Lofts, which overlooks the downtown skyline. Credit: Emily Siner / WPLN

Lily Hansen works in her studio at Ryman Lofts, which overlooks the downtown skyline. Credit: Emily Siner / WPLN

At Ryman Lofts in downtown Nashville, musicians and videographers live next to painters and photographers. Freelance writer Lily Clayton Hansen says it’s kind of magical.

“Living in a building where you walk down the hallway, and there’s music playing and there’s new artwork being constantly rotated in the hallways — I’ve never felt so inspired in my life,” she says.

Hansen moved to Nashville from Chicago two years ago and settled in Ryman Lofts last year. It’s a subsidized housing complex for artists — the first of its kind in the city — and Hansen pays $580 a month for a studio with an unobstructed view of the skyline.

“Where I’m from in Chicago, if this was downtown, it would be probably $2,000,” she says.

Her income as a freelancer is unpredictable, she says, and she wouldn’t be able to afford anything more expensive. So this was the perfect fit — cheap, because it’s subsidized by low-income housing tax credits; full of artistic people who could help her build social and professional networks; and in a location where she wouldn’t need a car.

To qualify to live in Ryman Lofts, artists have to make less than 60 percent of the area median income — which translates to a little under $27,000 right now. Credit: Emily Siner / WPLN

To qualify for Ryman Lofts, artists have to make less than 60 percent of the area median income, which translates to a little under $27,000. Credit: Emily Siner / WPLN

To be eligible to live here, artists have to make less than $26,880 a year, which is 60 percent of the area median income. The Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency has 5,500 low-income units around Nashville, but Ryman Lofts, built about a year and a half ago, is the only building that gives preference specifically to artists.

Joe Cain, the agency’s director of urban development, says there’s a constant wait list for these 60 units.

“Could we do another 60? Absolutely,” he says. “And could fill it? Absolutely.”

But he says there’s demand for affordable housing across the board. “That’s our mission — to provide affordable housing, be it for a teacher, a police officer, an artist who’s struggling, or the guy who’s flipping hamburgers at the local restaurant,” he says.

Cain says the agency probably won’t build more artist housing any time soon. But if Ryman Lofts residents find financial success — and can no longer qualify to live in low-income housing — they’ll have to move out, opening up space for newcomers.

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