How Austin became one of the least affordable cities in America

AUSTIN – In the past few years, one of America’s fastest growing cities has seen change in the Texas capital at a feverish pace, with churches torn down, RV parks razed, and neighborhood hangouts replaced with trendy restaurants and luxury apartment complexes.

The transformation is perhaps most felt in East Austin and the Montopolis neighborhood, a 2.5 square mile patch southeast of downtown where unobstructed views of the ever-expanding skyline have made the historically grown Black and Latino neighborhood a coveted community.

And the dynamics are still a long way off. Nowadays, construction sites and cranes across the neighborhood feel more like a permanent fixture, where longtime residents have watched with growing fear as fancy cafes, yoga studios, and expensive bars draw closer and closer.

“We knew it was coming,” said Francisco Nuñez, who lived in Cactus Rose Mobile Home Park for nearly two decades until it was sold to a developer to make room for plush housing that is now more than double that the price paid once in the rental price.

A decade ago, Austin, the capital of Texas, often viewed as a liberal oasis in a decidedly conservative state, was one of them the cheapest places to live. Well, after a forecast prepared by Zillow, an affordable real estate company, the Austin metropolitan area is well on its way to becoming the least affordable major homebuyer metropolitan area outside of California by year-end. It has already outperformed hot markets in Boston, Miami, and New York City.

With an average of 180 new residents moving to the city every day in 2020, the housing stock is very low, brokers said. Multiple offers, bidding battles and block-long queues in front of open houses are the order of the day.

Home sales prices in the city of Austin rose to a record median of $ 536,000 in October, down from about $ 441,250 a year ago. And they have more than doubled since 2011, when the average retail price was $ 216,000, according to the Austin Board of REALTORS, a trading group. Rents have also increased, with the average cost of an 864-square-foot apartment now $ 1,600.

“Austin is the worst-kept secret,” said Job Hammond, a secretary-treasurer on the board.

With the University of Texas flagship campus, rolling hillsides, and a vibrant music scene, Austin has long been an attractive home. But soaring prices have created a brewing housing crisis that is reshaping the city of nearly 1 million people, displacing mostly low-income blacks and Latinos like Mr. Nuñez from cultural centers, transportation hubs, grocery stores, and other amenities that come with it, activists said.

The lack of affordable housing was underscored by the relentless sight of homeless camps outside town hall and under busy highways. (The city recently started evicting them after Voters agreed to a public camping ban this year.)

In 2018, at least 35 Austin neighborhoods saw some period of gentrification, even though they were already experiencing explosive growth. According to a. take a high risk of following this example to learn Commissioned by the city and carried out by researchers from the University of Texas.

The numbers are likely higher today, said Heather K. Way, a law professor at the university and one of the study’s authors.

“One day you drive down a street and suddenly you think, ‘What happened to that apartment building that was there last week?'” Ms. Way said, referring to the rapid demolition of older apartment buildings in some Austin. Neighborhoods.

The eviction of low-income residents in a city roughly 13 percent below the poverty line worried Austin officials so much that a grassroots movement prompted them to hire the city’s first evictions officer this year. Nefertitti Jackmon’s task is to prevent widespread gentrification, even as cranes populate the skyline more and more and new buildings climb higher and higher.

Ms. Jackmon said that, while plans stay afoot, her office will be allocated approximately $ 300 million over the next 13 years to help tackle evictions such as B. for more affordable housing in the affected neighborhoods. She doesn’t mince her words when describing the challenges that lie ahead.

“In Austin, black and brown neighborhoods have been marginalized and underinvested,” said Ms. Jackmon. She also said she wanted to increase local residents‘ participation in the early process of new developments. “We say that development can happen without displacement.”

But not everyone is convinced that a new evacuation agency will have a significant impact.

“It’s an aspirin for cancer,” said Fred McGhee, a local historian and longtime resident of Montopolis, a neighborhood that once housed enslaved people and Mexican migrants who worked in cotton fields.

On a new day, Dr. McGhee his house, pointing in different directions, on construction sites or newly built luxury buildings. “Not so long ago these were all wetlands,” said Mr. McGhee. “Now all you see is new developments or plans for one.”

the East Vue Ranch Is one of them. On what was once the Cactus Rose Mobile Home Park, the luxury complex has an elegant swimming pool, game room and an enclosed dog park. Nearby is another apartment complex in the country that once housed a historic Black Church. Another Black Church, built in the 1860s, was demolished to make way for a street that could accommodate all of the new traffic. And a neighborhood hair salon has been replaced by a trendy South American bakery.

“This has become the story of two Austins,” said Susana Almanza, a longtime activist. “The rich continue to build in our neighborhoods and the poor are constantly being displaced. It doesn’t end. “

From March 2020 to February 2021, despite the pandemic, Austin was up with nearly 42,000 new homes, according to a. almost a leader in new construction Housing report from the Children’s Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.

Much of the city’s expansion has been attributed to the recent arrival of tech titans including Apple, Amazon, IBM, and AT&T – and more recently Tesla, whose CEO Elon Musk, who already lives with a missile site in South Texas, said the Das Company would move its headquarters from Palo Alto, California to Austin.

Those big strides – the merger with other big tech companies like Dell and IBM that are already well-established in the region – have brought in a younger and more affluent population and spawned the town’s new nickname, “Silicon Hills”.

The high paying jobs have accelerated the region’s economy. Over the past 10 years, high-tech jobs in the Austin metropolitan area, which tend to be paid in the six-figure range, have increased by almost 62 percent to around $ 100 176,000 jobs, It accounts for 17 percent of all jobs and outperforms any other industry by far, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

And since 2010, the median household income has risen from $ 55,744 to $ 80,954, according to the chamber.

Those high salaries have driven house prices, including rents, up, the cost of which has increased 38 percent over the past decade, more than other fast-growing Texan cities like Dallas and San Antonio, according to a 2020 report Root Policy Research Housing market analysis.

The city, which has had nearly 160,000 residents in the past 10 years, “can’t build houses fast enough,” said Rob Gordon, manager and real estate agent for real estate company JBGoodwin.

In the Northwest Hills neighborhood, about 20 minutes northwest of downtown, where Mr. Gordon does most of his business, 18 of the 19 homes in the market were sold for more than asking price this spring, an average of 113 percent, said Mr. Gordon. A home priced at $ 975,000 sold for $ 1,395,000 after a grueling bidding war.

Jon Kniss, a Nashville photographer, was taking desperate efforts to find a home when he moved to Austin last year. For months he covered his new neighborhood with letters with offers of money.

Nine months and more than 200 letters later, the Kniss family moved to a three-bedroom house in an affluent community northwest of downtown. “We wanted to see if we could get a little advantage,” said Mr. Kniss. “Great weather, quality of life, the schools. Everyone wants to move here. “

That feels especially good in Montopolis.

For those who have left the neighborhood, many wonder if they will be forced to leave their new homes again as new developments continue to be approved and built in even more remote corners of the city.

Maria Garcia de la Luz, 68, a former Cactus Rose resident who now lives next to Mr Nuñez, said she missed the proximity to shops and access to public transportation that she had in Montopolis. Not so long ago she injured a knee in an accident and was unable to receive treatment after her husband Magdaleno Garcia, 77, also fell ill and could not drive.

“It really touched me. I feel trapped here, ”said Ms. de la Luz. “In the end, it’s us, the poor people, who get hurt in the end. Who says they won’t throw us out of here too? “

Susan C. Beachy contributed to the research.

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