Austin’s Affordability Issue

April 24, 2015 by Kate Harrington

More city and business leaders are sounding the alarm on affordability as new data came out this week around that issue.

The Austin Board of Realtors released its March data, which showed that Austin-area home prices reached an all-time high for that month. According to ABOR, the median price for single-family homes increased 10 percent to reach $255,000 in March. The average price increased from the same month last year by 13 percent, to $334,758.

Home sales also increased by 13 percent year-over-year, with 2,440 homes sold in March.

In an announcement, ABOR called on Austin officials to take action. “The Austin-area housing market is the least affordable it has ever been,” said ABOR President Barb Cooper.

Meanwhile, City Demographer Ryan Robinson confirmed that people are indeed getting squeezed out of Austin because of rising home prices, when he talked to the Regional Affordability Committee on April 20.

The Austin Monitor reports that Robinson told the committee that recent poverty-rate data shows that low-income residents are leaving Austin, and quickly, mostly heading to Bastrop and Caldwell Counties.

While Austin’s poverty rate dropped from 20 percent in 2012 to 17.8 percent in 2013, the poverty rate in Bastrop County rose to 22 percent from 10 percent in the same time period.

“Every time we disperse our folks further and further out, we’re adding to our transportation issues. So it’s not just a housing issue, it’s a transportation issue as well,” Terry Mitchell, a Capital Metro board member and president of Momark Development, was quoted as saying by the Monitor. “It makes it very hard for Capital Metro, because the last thing you want is for people to be dispersed out into the hinterland. That makes the job much worse.”

One of the groups of people being pushed out of parts of the city are those in the creative industry, according to some number crunching from the Austin Business Journal. The ABJ looked at U.S. Census data from 2010 to 2013 to see where those who work in the arts, music, film, and food service industries moved during that time period.

The downtown area and parts of East Austin, which have some of the fastest-rising property values, saw the biggest exodus of creative types.

That’s a trend that worries many city and business leaders, especially if it means Austin risks losing some of the “weirdness” it’s come to be known for.

A number of proposals, including Mayor Steve Adler’s plan for a 20 percent homestead property tax exemption, aim to give homeowners some relief. And some council members are calling for more density in order to add affordable housing stock within the city.

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Written by Kate Harrington

Kate is a former reporter, most recently for the Austin Business Journal, where she covered real estate, economic development and transportation. Since 2010 she has been running Thumbtack Communications. Thumbtack provides writing, editing and marketing services. Before moving to Austin in 2002 Kate lived in her native New England, which she still visits often to escape the Texas heat.