Austin Growth

If you’ve lived Austin for even just a few years, you might noticed that the city seems to be getting more crowded by the day. You’re not imagining things: recent U.S. census figures point to Austin as one of the fastest, if not the fastest, growing large city in the country.

Austin experienced 12% population growth between 2010 and 2013. In the five years since the 2010 census, Austin, with an estimated population of just over 900,000, has leapfrogged San Francisco, Jacksonville and Indianapolis, moving from #14 to #11 on the list of the largest cities in the country. When you add in the larger metropolitan area, which incorporates Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties, the region has nearly two million residents, with Hays County the fastest growing county in the state and fifth nationally.

According to frequent estimates, an average of 100-150 people per day are relocating to the Austin region, lured by an attractive combination of temperate weather, a strong economy and a favorable job market, not to mention the city’s promise of a vibrant, active lifestyle. Also, compared to other parts of the nation, specifically large cities on the east and west coasts, our cost of living is still comparably low, even if long-time Austinites will freely share head-turning stories about how much cheaper things like housing used to be.

Nowadays, while plenty of vehicles with out-of-state license plates and starry-eyed occupants stream into the city on a daily basis, Austin residents have had to weigh the inevitable side effects of our current boomtown status. Though a recent Forbes survey lists Austin as #2 nationally for job growth, it also shows our cost of living is roughly 11% above the national average. An April survey from the Austin Board of Realtors found that home prices were at an all-time high. And renters have seen the average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment increase in five years from just under $800 to $1150, with central Austin neighborhood averages all exceeding $1300.

So where are all of these new residents coming from? Often, they’re from places that make Austin still seem affordable. The common scapegoat since the ’80s in Austin has been “those darn Californians,” who are unfazed by our housing prices, which still pale in comparison to those back in Los Angeles, San Diego or the Bay Area. And rental prices for transplants from New York City still seem like a pittance compared to the ones they left back in the Big Apple, where the average one bedroom rents for over $3000 per month. But do Californians and New Yorkers truly form the majority of new Austinites? The answer is yes and no.

In reality, people are coming from all over. According to a recent report in Bloomberg Businessweek, of the 15 metro areas outside of Texas from which the most people have moved to Austin since 2007, five are indeed in California (four representing the Los Angeles and San Diego regions). The New York City region is also on the list. However, the other nine are from a variety of locations, including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, different parts of Florida, and Oklahoma.  A number of other reports point out that most new residents of the Austin area have actually relocated from other parts of Texas.

So what does this all mean? With so many new arrivals, is Austin going to still be Austin as we know it? The answer is always in people’s individual perspectives, but you may hear lifelong Austinites say that this same question has been asked since the oil and building boom of the 1970s, if not before that. The city certain faces many challenges as it struggles to cope with the steady influx of newcomers, but the same spirit and lifestyle pursuits that draw so many here still seem to remain.

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