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The Hidden Cost of an Arts Career – Artists Are Rent-Burdened in 80% of Cultural Districts

Renting in cultural districts
Key takeaways:
  • Artists who live in cultural districts pay about $380 more per month in rent than the city average. 
  • Those who make a living in arts are rent-burdened in 80% of the cultural districts of the largest U. S. cities.
  • The average rent in Houston’s Museum District costs about $1,900 more than the average rent in the city. 

Our cities change and develop like a living organism. What was once an underdeveloped neighborhood can be transformed through the power of gentrification into a developed, thriving neighborhood where everyone wants to live. For many neighborhoods in the U.S., this change originates with artists or is driven by a need for culture. This has been the case for Charlotte’s NoDa, a stylish area envisioned by artists Ruth Ava Lyons and Paul Sire. Before them, the neighborhood delimited by North Davidson Street was an unknown industrial neighborhood. Another example is Houston’s Museum District, one of the few pedestrian-friendly spots in the city, which was drowning before massive investments reshaped it into a place dedicated to art and culture.

Today, cultural districts are some of the most attractive—and most expensive—neighborhoods in the country. The living costs rose so much, that these neighborhoods have become unaffordable for the very people who helped build them up — artists. In order to see how much it costs to live in these creative cradles today, we compared rent prices in cultural districts with the city average using rent data provided by our sister company Yardi Matrix. The data covers apartment complexes with more than 50 units, located within a half-mile radius of the center point of each district. A look at apartment prices in the 20 most populous U.S. cities revealed that renting is 24% more expensive, costing a monthly $382 more in the cultural districts compared to the city-wide average.

Cultural districts command up to 176% higher rents, very few of them are cheaper than the city average

Houston’s Museum District shows the largest difference to the rest of the city, with rents $1,916 (176%) more expensive on average. Houston also took second place on the podium with its Theatre District where renters pay on average $1,693 (156%) more to be close to their favorite venues. The Warehouse District in Phoenix, AZ ranks third, being $1,238 (124%) more expensive than the average city prices.

Boston’s Roxbury Cultural District is another example of a place that was helped out of its misery by people who wanted it to stand for art. It is one of the few districts that managed to remain at reach for artists, being $1,500 cheaper on average than the city. Other affordable areas include Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, in San Francisco, CA with a $1,100 difference, followed by Barrio Logan in San Diego, CA and Bishop Arts District in Dallas, TX, which are also $978 and $619 cheaper, respectively.

Many cases reveal that higher costs are the result of cultural districts’ proximity to downtown areas, but there are also differences not justified by location. For instance, Charlotte’s NoDa is 30% more expensive than the city average, although it is located further away from the city center. Other examples include Broad Ripple Village in Indianapolis which is 33% more expensive than the city average and Museum District in Houston, with rents 176% higher.

The most expensive districts in absolute terms are located, unsurprisingly, in the most expensive cities. Within a 0.5-mile radius of Manhattan’s Fourth Arts Block rent prices average a whopping $4,660 per month. San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens at $4,255 and Manhattan’s Chelsea at $4,229 complete the top 3. Part of Manhattan’s Midtown area, Chelsea is home to many art galleries displaying both established and aspiring artists, while Fourth Arts Block in Manhattan’s East Village offers artists a wide range of opportunities including residencies, workshops, classes, and workspace.

High rents keep artists from living close to their workplaces

The Department for Housing and Urban Development classified those spending over 30% of their income on rent as rent-burdened, and those paying more than 50% as severely burdened. The concern is that with such a big part of a household’s income taken up by housing costs, rent burden forces people to compromise on basic necessities like food and medical care.

There is a growing tendency among renters to move closer to their workplace in order to reduce commute, yet for artists, living close to cultural districts might mean too much. Artists living in 14 of the 49 cultural districts in the 20 largest American cities are heavily rent-burdened, with a rent-to-income ratio of 50% or higher. Half of them are actually bearing a rent burden of over 60%

The most rent-burdened cultural district is Fourth Arts Block, where the rent-to-income ratio is 69%, rendering it almost impossible for the average artist to access multifamily housing. In 25 districts, artists and those working in the field are moderately rent-burdened, with 30% to 50% of their income going solely on rent.

In only 10 districts artists would spend less than 30% of their income on rent. The top 3 most affordable districts for artists are all located in Texas and include the Bishop Arts District in Dallas (12% rent-to-income ratio), El Paso Downtown Cultural District in El Paso (21%), and Zona Cultural in San Antonio (22%). Surprisingly, both Queens arts districts made the list, Downtown Jamaica with 27% rent-to-income ratio and Kaufman Arts District with 29%.

Check out the interactive table below for detailed information about the cultural districts in the 20 largest U.S. cities by population. Click the column headers to sort the entries and use the search box to filter by city.

CityCultural DistrictDistrict Average RentCity Average Rent$ Difference% DifferenceArtist IncomeRent Burden
HoustonMuseum District$3,004$1,088$1,916176%$57,88062%
HoustonTheatre District$2,781$1,088$1,693156%$57,88058%
PhoenixWarehouse District$2,234$996$1,238124%$53,51050%
IndianapolisFountain Square$1,402$842$56067%$48,25035%
San AntonioKing William Cultural District$1,651$996$65566%$49,41040%
DallasArt District$1,913$1,176$73763%$54,77042%
ColumbusShort North Arts District$1,469$912$55761%$52,47034%
IndianapolisMass Ave$1,346$842$50460%$48,25033%
HoustonWashington Avenue$1,704$1,088$61657%$57,88035%
PhoenixCentral Arts District$1,562$996$56657%$53,51035%
HoustonMidtown Houston$1,675$1,088$58754%$57,88035%
PhoenixRosevelt Row Arts District$1,514$996$51852%$53,51034%
San AntonioSouth Flores Art District$1,504$996$50851%$49,41037%
PhiladelphiaParkway Museums District$2,210$1,549$66143%$58,85045%
ChicagoTheatre District$2,677$1,904$77341%$57,00056%
AustinSix Square (African American Cultural Heritage District)$1,902$1,349$55341%$63,37036%
IndianapolisBroad Ripple Village$1,122$842$28033%$48,25028%
ChicagoRiver North Gallery District$2,504$1,904$60032%$57,00053%
WashingtonPenn Quarter & Chinatown$2,804$2,145$65931%$81,20041%
SeattleHistoric Theater District$2,685$2,066$61930%$62,22052%
PhiladelphiaAvenue of the Arts$2,010$1,549$46130%$58,85041%
PhiladelphiaOld City$1,975$1,549$42628%$58,85040%
BrooklynCultural District (includes Dumbo, Downtown Brooklyn)$3,425$2,801$62422%$81,51050%
PhoenixHistoric Grand Avenue$1,192$996$19620%$53,51027%
San FranciscoYerba Buena Gardens$4,255$3,579$67619%$81,89062%
DenverRiNo North Art District$1,832$1,595$23715%$57,03039%
San AntonioSouthtown Arts District$1,140$996$14414%$49,41028%
ManhattanFourth Arts Block (East Fourth Street Cultural District/ Lower East Side)$4,660$4,119$54113%$81,51069%
San JoseSoFa Arts and Entertainment District$3,092$2,758$33412%$73,05051%
El PasoDowntown Cultural District$856$766$9012%$48,35021%
Los AngelesArts District$2,667$2,395$27211%$83,11039%
DenverThe Golden Triangle of Denver$1,775$1,595$18011%$57,03037%
BostonLiterary Cultural district$3,544$3,388$1565%$67,09063%
San DiegoGaslamp Quarter District$2,255$2,146$1095%$58,79046%
Los AngelesGallery Row$2,459$2,395$643%$83,11036%
HoustonEast End Cultural District$1,123$1,088$353%$57,88023%
Manhattan42nd Street Development (includes Garment District)$4,191$4,119$722%$81,51062%
BostonFenway Cultural District$3,442$3,388$542%$67,09062%
SeattleCapitol Hill Arts District$2,022$2,066-$44-2%$62,22039%
SeattlePionner Square$1,944$2,066-$122-6%$62,22037%
San AntonioZona Cultural$923$996-$73-7%$49,41022%
QueensKaufman Arts District$2,002$2,342-$340-15%$81,51029%
QueensDowntown Jamaica$1,822$2,342-$520-22%$81,51027%
San FranciscoCalle 24 Latino Cultural District$2,423$3,579-$1,156-32%$81,89036%
BostonRoxbury Cultural District$1,868$3,388-$1,520-45%$67,09033%
San DiegoBarrio Logan$1,168$2,146-$978-46%$58,79024%
DallasBishop Arts District$557$1,176-$619-53%$54,77012%


  • This study is based on August 2018 rent data provided by Yardi Matrix, a sister company.
  • The income data used in the analysis was provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and narrowed down to salaries in the Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation sector, as of May 2017.
  • For identifying cultural districts within the 20 most populous cities in the USA, our analysts used Americans for the Arts’ public database (as well as local government resources, in Boston’s case). Americans for the Arts defines cultural districts as “well-recognized, labeled areas of a city in which a high concentration of cultural facilities and programs serve as the main anchor of attraction.”
  • The average rents were calculated based on 50+-unit multifamily rent prices within a 0.5-mile radius of the centerpoint of each cultural district. Due to low sample size near their cultural districts (less than 300 units), Jacksonville, FL and Fort Worth, TX were eliminated from the analysis.
  • The centerpoints were manually repositioned to better reflect the cultural clusters in the case of Short North Arts District, Columbus, OH; RiNo Art District, Denver, CO; Midtown Houston, Houston, TX and Downtown Arts District, Los Angeles, CA.

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About the author

Mihaela Buzec

Mihaela is an online content developer for RENTCafé. She has a BA in English Language and Literature and an MA in Current Linguistics. She is a passionate reader, writer, and researcher, with a background in academic writing. You can get in touch with Mihaela at

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