Austin and Gentrification

I just posted a comment on a speakup austin! in response to a request for subsidizing business development in East Austin. And it got me thinking about explaining in black and white, why new development is the only way to get affordable housing in central Austin and stop gentrification.

I think ultimately there is no way to provide enough affordable housing through subsidizes. Nor is there a way to stop building of condos and boutiques in East Austin through bans or code enforcement. We’ve been doing that, and in the past decade we’ve seen the African American population pack up and leave and the colonization by whites.

We have to attack the real problems of Austin:

  1. The majority of Austin wants to live in zip codes 78704 (Bouldin, Zilker, Travis Heights), 78701 (Downtown), or 78751 (Hyde Park).
  2. There is not enough affordable housing in Austin, and not enough public will to spend the kind of money it would take to build hundreds of thousands of units of subsidized housing.

The answer has been staring us in the face, but seems unattainable. Provide more housing in 78704, 78701, and 78751. That’s where people want to live. So provide them housing. This will pull hipsters back out of East Austin leave more housing for the poor. Because the hipsters want to live off South Congress, and 2nd Street, and off Duvall.

Encourage the destruction of old apartment buildings and replacement with ones that double or triple the number of residents. Provide incentives to replace Hyde Park’s old suburban style office buildings with ground floor commercial with residential above. Allow automatic up-zoning of single-family lots to multifamily to allow duplexes and four-plexes. We need more housing and we needed it a decade ago.

Will this create changes in the neighborhoods? Absolutely. But in case you haven’t noticed there’s already been changes in the neighborhoods. Hyde Park, Downtown, and 78704 are almost entirely white, and the median income of whites living in Austin is $90,000/year. The neighborhoods have already turned into upscale white suburbs. If we’re going to fight to keep Austin weird we need to get the artists and weirdos back in there. And we’re going to need a lot more housing to do so. Pretending we can keep Austin weird by subsidizing housing for 10 artists is just silly.

Common wisdom is that families won’t live in apartments or condos. But 78741 says that they will. We just need more condos or apartments that are 2br+ and that can be had for less than $1000/month. And we’re going to need a LOT more apartments, before we start seeing those prices again. The first hundred-thousand are going to be $2000/month. The next hundred-thousand may be $1500/month. But if we keep building we’ll get there. And we can’t get dismayed by the initial high prices. Because the demand for a $400,000, 600 square foot condo just shows how much building we have to do.

Or we can keep doing what we’re doing. You can’t afford to live in central Austin right now can you? And the prices are still going up. Do you have a better solution?