With hundreds of people migrating to Austin every day, housing in hot demand and prices on the rise, affordability is the topic du jour in the Live Music Capital of the world. But is it really that expensive to live here?
While rents are rising to record-highs in the Capital City, it falls leagues behind major hubs like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Still, for a city with just over 1 million people, Austin's affordability has been under question, with few options even for those making $15 per hour.
Here's how Austin stacks up against other similar-sized cities.
San José, California, pop. 1,009,340
California is not known for its affordability and San José is no exception—the median rent price in the city falls around $2,593, according to apartment rental site RENTCafe. The average apartment size is 886 square feet, putting the price per square foot at $2.93, which is also on a 4% decline from last year. You won't find housing for less than $1,500, so be prepared to pry open that pocketbook. That's the price you pay for California's tech hub and sunny Bay Area skies!
Seattle, Washington, pop. 776,555
Coming in with the lowest population, an apartment in Seattle will set you back $2,034 per month on average, according to RENTCafe. Though this is a comparable price to Austin, if you plan on making a move to Seattle, you're going to need to invest in some space solutions because the hefty price will give you much less room to spread out. Just over $2,000 per month will get you 692 square feet of space, meaning you'll pay $2.94 for every foot of space. This price is even after a decrease of 4% from last year and only 4% of housing falls below $1,000 per month.
Austin, Texas, pop. 1,011,790
While stomaching a growing population, Austin is scrambling to find enough housing for its booming populous. You'll be hard-pressed to find an apartment in Austin for cheaper than the median price, $1,539, but with 865 spacious square feet to sprawl out, you'll only be paying $1.78 per foot, according to RENTCafe. A bargain compared to Seattle or San José, plus you'll be right in the center of Texas' luscious Hill Country. Rent has increased by 9% since last year and is likely to increase as the city keeps growing, but 11% of listings are below $1,000 so you can live cheap if you're crafty enough!
Charlotte, North Carolina, pop. 912,096
Known for its big-city views, lake communities and craft brews, Charlotte is just about the same size as Austin and will run you about the same average rent at $1,398 per month. However, you get more bang for your buck, because the price will get you around 942 square feet, pricing at $1.48 per foot. Rent is rising faster than Austin's though, at a 10% increase since last year, and has just a bit more affordable housing, with 15% of units under $1,000. See how else the two cities stack up here.
Dallas, Texas, pop. 1,347,120
Love Texas but can't handle the competition in Austin's fast and furious renting market? Dallas might be the city for you if you're willing to pay $1,338 for 848 square feet. At $1.58 per square foot, the home of the Dallas Cowboys is marginally more affordable than Austin so the choice is yours if you can spare an extra $200 per month. Rent is up 7% year over year but 33% of rentals are under $1,000, so affordable options are prevalent. You'll miss out on the river flowing through the city but there are plenty of historical sites to see and a massive metro area.
Jacksonville, Florida, pop. 929,647
The largest city by area in the sunshine state, Jacksonville is the most populous city in the southeast and comes with sandy Atlantic beaches. Named the top city for digital nomads (Austin is No. 2), Jacksonville's rent is rising more quickly than any other city on the list—13% since last year—but still packs in plenty of affordable housing. The average rent falls at $1,266 for a generous 965 square feet, meaning you're only paying $1.31 per, and you'll have options, with 27% of units under $1,000.
Fort Worth, Texas, pop. 942,323
Just outside Dallas, Fort Worth is a fairly affordable choice in Texas. There, you'll find a median rent of $1,238 that will leave you room to grow in 872 square feet, putting the price per foot at $1.42, according to RENTCafe. Like most of the cities in this range, Fort Worth rent has risen 8% since last year but since 31% of its units are under $1,000 per month, you're less likely to struggle to find a place you can afford. The city packs plenty of art museums to visit and a country flair—rodeos and the National Cowgirl Museum await.
Columbus, Ohio, pop. 913,921
Though it is the capital city of Ohio, Columbus' charming brick houses, bustling art scene and plenty of professional sports teams are just some of the things the city is known for. You can live in Columbus for quite a bit cheaper than Austin, with a median rent of $1,035 and an average apartment size of 883 square feet—which is only $1.17 per foot, according to RENTCafe. Rent is on a modest rise of 6% but with 44% of units clocking in the $701-$1,000 range and 14% between $501-$700, there are economical options aplenty.
Indianapolis, Indiana, pop. 887,232
Finally, with an average rent at $969, you would have to look hard to find housing that wasn't in an affordable budget—at least by Austin standards. With 63% of units under $1,000, finding a bargain of a place is easy, and you're only paying $1.10 per foot for an average of 880 square feet. So what's in Indianapolis? Proximity to Lake Michigan, the Indianapolis 500 race and the romantic central canal. What's more, rent is on just a modest slope, rising only 6% since last year.
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.
Giga Texas, the massive Tesla factory in southeast Travis County is getting even bigger.
The company filed with the city of Austin this week to expand its headquarters with a new 500,000-square-foot building. The permit application notes “GA 2 and 3 expansion,” which indicates the company will make two general assembly lines in the building.
More details about the plans for the building are unclear. The gigafactory has been focused on Model Y production since it opened in April, but the company is also aiming for Cybertruck production to kick off in mid-2023.
While there is room for expansion on the 3.3 square miles of land Tesla has, this move comes after CEO Elon Musk’s recent comments about the state of the economy and its impact on Tesla.
In a May interview with Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, Musk said the gigafactories in Berlin and Austin are “gigantic money furnaces” and said Giga Texas had manufactured only a small number of cars.
And in June, Musk sent a company wide email saying Tesla will be reducing salaried headcount by 10%, then later tweeted salaried headcount should be fairly flat.
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