When University of Texas student Ben Patterson graduates this spring, he'll join the large group of Austinites who make $15 an hour at their main place of work.
Once the "livable" salary that thousands across the country fought to make the national minimum wage, living on $15/hour is now a near-insurmountable task in many urban metros, including the booming tech hub of Austin, where the median home price pushed past $600,000 in March.
Charles Mitchell, who owns Capital Budgeting Strategies, knows the perils of recent college graduates all too well. He's worked with clients with as little as $67 to their name and says living on your own is doable—if you're willing to sacrifice some luxuries or time.
Here's the key to budgeting that $15/hour income in Austin, according to Mitchell:
Find your hidden housing gem
This depresses me so much. I love this city, I grew up here. It means everything to me. But I’m watching it lose its identity more and more every day.— Chris Welhausen (@chriswelhausen) April 14, 2022
I’m really starting to wonder how much longer I can afford to live here. https://t.co/OSZELTrnPC
Aside from paying off debts early, avoiding high-interest loans like payday loans and sacrificing some luxuries in life, Mitchell told Austonia the key comes down to finding cheap housing.
Affordable housing may seem like an element of old Austin legend, and it would be hard to find a place to stay within Mitchell's ideal range—housing that costs within 28% of your monthly budget. For a full-time employee making $15 an hour, that income amounts to $2,217 per month.
That allots $620 per month for rent. Pickings may be slim—just two complexes offer four-bedroom apartments for that range in Austin on ApartmentFinder.com—but with enough roommates, certain specials and the help of apartment locators, it's still very narrowly possible within the city.
The more likely scenario, like Patterson's, may be finding other budgeting areas to cut. Mitchell recommends skimping on luxuries, like payments for nicer cars, and cutting out on savings if needed.
"I'll more or less be able to prioritize paying "X" amount for rent each month," Patterson said. "Trying to be mindful of not just exuberantly spending or being impulsive with buying habits... just knowing that in the next few months, I need to start being able to hand out an additional $1,000 bucks each month just to live."
But $15 an hour may no longer cut it even for Austin homeowners. Fae, an Amazon and Whole Foods employee who is using an alias since she is going against the company media policy, has owned a house in Pflugerville for 20 years, when it was worth half of its current value.
But like virtually every other coworker she knows, Fae has picked up multiple supplemental jobs in order to eke out a living in her city.
Get a side hustle
Welcome to Austin, Tx, where wages are 97% of nat’l avg, rent is 103% of nat’l avg, and education level is 20-25% above national avg. A real slice of heaven we’ve got here🙄 pic.twitter.com/AqQUUtSFKL— Tracey Suits (@SuitsTracey) April 28, 2021
Fae recently had a bittersweet celebration as her hourly wage increased to $15.25—a 25-cent increase after three years with the company. Wages like hers put Amazon workers' median salary at just over $31,000 in Austin—less than half of the median pay at Google, Meta and Apple.
"Even full-time (employees), it doesn't matter, they cannot rely on Amazon as a living job," Fae told Austonia. "Everybody I know has a side job."
Before he even goes out on his own, Patterson is preparing to work extra for a second flow of income that works with his hours at his current job at Austin FC's Q2 Stadium without running his energy into the ground.
A side hustle may be essential to paying off loans early and beginning to save for retirement (Mitchell recommends a high-interest IRA), but it doesn't have to be too taxing: Mitchell said anything from picking up food delivery shifts to having a garage sale could revitalize your budget.
Find a sustainable employer
BREAKING: David beats Goliath! In a historic victory, Amazon workers in Staten Island win the first U.S. Amazon union.@AmazonLabor and workers at the JFK8 warehouse overcame extreme union-busting to make history.— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) April 1, 2022
Patterson didn't take his current job for the money—instead, he's hoping his current gig at the stadium could lead to his breakthrough in the sports industry.
Taking a job with clear upward mobility is key, Mitchell says, and bonuses like matching 401(k) plans or other benefits are a huge plus. If your job offers neither and still pays too little, however, it might be time to consider switching to a more sustainable job.
Mitchell said many people aren't taught the financial literacy tools needed to afford a living in Austin, and many others are never made aware of the employment options that are available. While Austin hasn't had much praise for its affordability in recent months, it does boast a swelling job market, with over 58,000 more jobs created from February 2020 to February 2022.
If your debt is low and you've got extra time, investing in a marketable skill online or at a local community college is always advisable. And while it may not be as desirable, some restaurants and entry-level positions, including McDonald's, have raised starting pay for some positions to over $15 per hour.
To stay or to leave?
Even with these tips in place, both Fae and Patterson agree that their current wage is hardly doable in Austin.
"The way that rent and real estate just continue to become more and more expensive... I don't think it's in a sustainable spot," Patterson said. "Even today, it's kind of on the fringe with people who still make ends meet."Patterson says he wonders if he made the right decision to stay in the capital city in what is looking like its most expensive era yet.
"There's probably not a week that goes by where I don't second guess if I'm making the right call," Patterson said. "But I'm also pretty confident, just knowing me as a person, that I'll be able to... grind it out and find a way to make things work."
Fae plans to stay too, even as other Austinites she knows could get pushed out, as she collects workplace horror stories—and unlivable wages—at Amazon before her homemade skincare product line takes off.
"Everybody who's originally from Austin can't even afford to live in Austin (anymore) and they're just moving out," Fae said. "My question is, how do they get away with this?"
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Flyers are less satisfied with the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport than a year ago, a new study shows.
Research firm J.D. Power placed ABIA at No. 15 on a list ranking overall customer satisfaction at large airports, a slip from last year’s spot at No. 7. Other Texas airports secured rankings ahead of Austin, with Dallas Love Field at third, Houston Hobby at eight, and San Antonio International Airport at ninth.
Dallas/Ft. Worth ranked eight in the "mega airport" category.
The study examined airports based on the following factors: terminal facilities; airport arrival/departure; baggage claim; security check; check-in/baggage check; and food, beverage and retail.
On a 1,000-point scale, Austin-Bergstrom received 785 points this year compared to its score of 819 in 2021.
Passenger experiences at Austin-Bergstrom have been influenced by population growth in Central Texas, which has brought record traffic and longer wait times at TSA. And a recent power outage at Austin-Bergstrom caused flight delays. Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power., said that consumer satisfaction with flying has decreased overall.
“The combination of pent-up demand for air travel, the nationwide labor shortage and steadily rising prices on everything from jet fuel to a bottle of water have created a scenario in which airports are extremely crowded and passengers are increasingly frustrated—and it is likely to continue through 2023,” Taylor said.
Bailey Grimmett, a spokesperson for ABIA, commented on the ranking.
“We're grateful that AUS customers continue to rank our airport above average, especially during this year that saw air travel disruption here in Austin and across the globe as airports, airlines and the air travel industry continued navigating the impacts of the pandemic,” Grimmett said. “We look forward to delivering near-term and long-term improvements through our Journey With AUS program to improve the passenger experience.”
That program is slated to bring a new midfield concourse to increase gates and connect to the Barbara Jordan Terminal through an underground connector tunnel.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.