Did Austin Do Its Duty for Black Residents?

East Austin home, c. 2015. Photo by Hakeem Adewumi.
The city forced residents to the East Side, but didn’t protect them from gentrification when home values steadily and steeply increased between 1998 and 2010.

Austin Realtors Group records of housing prices in East Austin support the findings of Dr. Eric Tang’s most-recent study at the University of Texas at Austin, in which most respondents – who moved from East Austin from 1999 to 2010 – said they did so because it became too expensive to live there.

Because the City of Austin’s 1929 master plan moved all of the city’s Black residents to East Austin, when the city saw property values rising in that community during the early 2000s, did that raise a duty for the city to take some action to preserve the community?

Here are some examples from the National Housing Institute of actions cities can take to protect special communities from rising prices: aggressive-building of middle-income housing; freezing property taxes; protecting senior homeowners; prohibiting large-scale luxury development; stabilization vouchers; and changing the fair-housing rules.

In 2014, Austin made national news when a study by Tang, associate professor and faculty fellow at the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis and Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas, used census data to show that Austin was an anomaly among American cities between 1999 and 2010 because the total population grew, while the Black population declined.

A follow-up study and new analysis by Tang this year focused on individuals who moved out of East Austin during that decade. The study found most of them said they moved out of East Austin because it became too expensive to live there.

Changing values

Supporting Tang’s results are records from the Austin Realtors Group. The group reports, in data provided by Pierpoint Communications Account Supervisor Danielle B. Urban, that home values in East Austin (the area east of IH-35, between the Colorado River and U.S. Highway 183) steadily and steeply increased between 1998 and 2010: For example, in 1999, 409 homes were sold at a median price of $84,000; while in 2008, 899 homes were sold at a median value of $189,500.

“The Texas real estate market, and Austin in particular, were insulated from the dramatic value declines during the Great Recession 2009-2011, and recovered quicker than the rest of the nation. One consequence of the recession was a slowdown in new construction, which has yet to recover to pre-recession levels.  Five years of very strong job and population growth has created high housing demand,” says Marya D. Crigler, chief appraiser at Travis Central Appraisal District.

Tang’s follow-up study shows that, “This was a surprising statistic from our study, many of them said they would move back to Austin if they could. Even though they are happy with Round Rock and Pflugerville, they still miss ‘home.’ Austin is where they have their roots. And those roots are irreplaceable,” he told soulciti in July.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler recognized Austin’s lack of affordable housing in 2015. “We have a huge gap in housing that people can afford – nearly 50,000 families can’t afford even $500 per month rent. Nearly 36 percent of Austin residents are ‘low-income,'” he said in his State of Our City address. “To address our housing supply gap for low and middle-income families, Austin needs to construct about 100,000 new housing units by 2025, and we need to save another 35,000 affordable units from disappearing through gentrification.”

Austin needs to construct about 100,000 new housing units by 2025, and we need to save another 35,000 affordable units from disappearing through gentrification.

At the same time, outside the city, the Black population has remained stable. soulciti reviewed the 2000 U.S. Census data and data from SuburbanStats.org from the 2010 census, which includes updates from 2015 and 2016, and found that in the Austin metropolitan statistical area (which includes the counties of Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson), the total population increased from 2000 to 2016, and the total Black population increased from 2000 to 2016, with a stable percentage of Austin metropolitan statistical area residents who are Black, approximately 8% (7.9% in 2000 and 7.6% in 2015 and 2016).

Charlotte Moore contributed to this story.


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