William Doc Jones considers himself one of the lucky ones. Doc, who is Executive Director of International Jazz Day AZ Foundation and President of Jazz Town USA, was born and raised in Chicago but moved to Phoenix thirty years ago to pursue his career as a jazz musician. With just a saxophone and a keyboard, Doc has been able to sustain himself and his family along with his wife Shirley of 52 years. Most other musicians in Phoenix aren’t so fortunate.
“When I moved to Phoenix in 1986, the music scene was thriving,” he said, “but then came the saving and loan crash of the early ’90s, then the 2008 real estate crash. It was devastating for the arts community.”
Now, with the recent Covid-19 pandemic, the arts community has been hit worse than ever. A growing number of music venues have temporarily closed their doors and musicians are struggling more than ever to make ends meet. Even before the pandemic, musicians have been struggling to afford the skyrocketing rent in Phoenix and surrounding Arizona cities, which has jumped 50 percent since 2000. As a result, many musicians have been forced out of the city, often commuting into Phoenix and its surrounding cities for gigs.
However, the lack of affordable housing for musicians has been an issue for the arts community for decades now.
Doc Jones was cruising around the streets of Chicago in 2019, before coronavirus had made its devastating impact on the US, and pointing out the neighborhoods he used to live in. As he visited where the Robert Taylor Homes Projects use to be on 47 and State Street, one of the nation’s oldest black neighborhoods, he reflected how inaccessible the area had become.
“Everybody wants to live there now,” he said, pointing out the gentrified houses with the sky-high rents. What used to be home to some of the greatest jazz and blues musicians was now completely unaffordable for musicians in 2020.
The housing crisis isn’t limited to just Chicago. The city’s effort to house its creative artists is a struggle playing out around the country. As urban rents skyrocket and wages stagnate, musicians and artists are being priced out of neighborhoods that they have been performing in their whole lives.
Many musicians have to make do in substandard housing, but this isn’t sustainable, says Doc.
“If you don’t get musicians and cultural artists affordable housing and rents, it’s going to hurt the cultural economy,” said Doc. “We’re going to kill the goose that can bring tourism back to our city.”
Helping the Creative Artists
Several cities are experimenting with ways to keep the creative artists from getting priced out, with programs that give private developers like Doc Jones and Del Monte, an incentive to create low-income housing for Jazz and Blues musicians. It’s time Phoenix also introduces programs to aid its struggling artists and musicians.
Doc Jones, with International Jazz Day AZ Foundation, has plans to build 150 affordable housing units for Phoenix’s Jazz and
Blues musicians in the next 5 years. Doc has called upon Tanner properties to collaborate with him to build Jazz Town USA, a new program that will allow creative professionals to take out low-interest loans to purchase property, rehab existing structures, or build new buildings to live and work in.
The Jazz Town USA Coalition also plans to lobby Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Juan Salgado, CEO of Phoenix IDA to provide 200 affordable housing units for Creative Artist by 2025. The program hopes to be funded by city agencies, Phoenix IDA, private donors, and revenues from International Day Festivals.
However, this could prove to be difficult, says Doc Jones.
“Building affordable housing requires complicated financing, usually a combination of federal, state, local, and philanthropic funding.
“Jazz Town USA is looking for abandoned school buildings and vacant properties, as well as a bridge loan to get things up and running. Once the loan is repaid, the city can then cycle that money into other development projects for creative artists.
“Repurposing public land and facilities brings down development costs so that we can make housing more affordable.”
With the growing impact of coronavirus on the creative artist, it is more vital than ever to ensure we protect the music and arts community of Phoenix. Now is the time to act!
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