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Before the pandemic, Tyson Bird and his girlfriend decided to upgrade from their one-bedroom apartment in Brentwood to a two-bedroom place in the Riverside neighborhood, where they felt they could find a newer building with more affordable rates than in other parts of town.
When the first COVID-19 cases were reported in March, they were still looking. Although the lockdown and subsequent restrictions meant they couldn't tour places in person, the couple was pleasantly surprised by what they found.
"The prices were a lot lower than we expected," Bird said.
So low, in fact, that they ultimately moved into a two-bedroom place in Clarksville, which they originally thought was out of their budget.
"We expected to pay a couple hundred more," Bird told Austonia of their new place. Instead, he and his girlfriend pay $85 more a month for double the square footage in a building 30 blocks closer to downtown. "It was a no-brainer," he said.
The couple is not alone in their discovery.
The average monthly rent of Austin-area apartments fell from more than $1,300 in March to less than $1,225 last month, according to the latest report from ApartmentData.com. Occupancy rates are showing a similar decline.
Cindi Reed, regional vice president of ApartmentData.com, said other Texas metros are seeing their rental markets start to stabilize eight months into the pandemic—but not Austin's.
"Our rates were greatly overinflated, in my opinion," Reed said, explaining that local rents had long been the most expensive in the state. "Our fall was going to be bigger because we were higher."
Additionally, Austin has a greater proportion of its apartment stock under construction or proposed than other cities. Currently, there are nearly 44,000 units in development across 150 properties.
New buildings tend to be in the Class A—or most luxurious—category and cater to recent arrivals lured to Austin by jobs in the tech sector and other booming industries.
"That's what drives us," Reed said. "Absorption is high when job growth is high."
But many major employers—including Amazon, Apple and Indeed—have said they don't plan on returning to their offices until next year.
Without new arrivals to fill these units, 61% of Class A properties and 41% of Class B properties are offering incentives in the form of discounted rent or other deals, Reed said.
Additionally, despite this historic downturn, many tenants are struggling to stay in their homes because of lost jobs and other financial hardships.
But not everyone is frustrated.
"Renters can utilize some of these benefits right now," Blair said.
Like Bird, some Austin renters may find that they can afford a bigger apartment in a more desirable location for around the same price.
Others, spurred by the low interest rates and more flexible remote work options precipitated by the pandemic, may seek out homeownership.
"There is a migration from the inner core of the city, (where people are) paying outrageous downtown rents, to the outer suburban areas, where things are more affordable," Reed said. "If you're paying $2,500 a month in rent downtown, you can buy a beautiful house for that (same amount) and build equity."
Despite the pandemic, the local housing market remains scorching.
The median home price in the city of Austin hit an all-time high of $435,000 last month—a nearly 15% year-over-year increase—according to the Austin Board of Realtors' latest report.
But the rental cool down appears here to stay.
"Our previous place is still listed," Bird said. "Right now, it's $100 less (a month) than we paid the last two years."
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a record-setting second quarter during an earnings call broadcasted from the Giga Texas construction site in Southeast Travis County on Monday.
The electric carmaker reported more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and the production of more than 200,000 vehicles for the first time despite challenges such as a global semiconductor shortage.
"It … seems that public sentiment towards electric vehicles is at an inflection point, and at this point, I think, almost everyone agrees electric vehicles are the only way forward," Musk said.
Exterior shots taken just a while ago of Giga Texas (while @elonmusk is reportedly at the Gigafactory!) during today's earnings call!
Hope @peterdog15 got to catch the technoking in his video! #fastestinhistory #Tesla pic.twitter.com/WqeDlb5wU3
— Austin Tesla Club (@AustinTeslaClub) July 26, 2021
Despite rising consumer demand and adequate factory capacity, Tesla faces what Musk described as a "quite serious" global semiconductor shortage, which will determine the company's growth rate for the rest of the year.
With increased revenue and production, Tesla is investing in new factories, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said. These include Giga Texas, the $1.1 billion manufacturing plant that broke ground last summer and is slated to open later this year.
The Giga Texas factory in Southeast Travis County has rapidly increased in size since ground broke last August. (Tesla)
Musk commended the construction team for "incredible progress," transforming what was basically a vacant site into "a mostly complete large factory a year later."
I was at Giga Texas yesterday. Team is making excellent progress. Building will be almost a mile long when complete.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 25, 2021
Giga Texas will produce the highly anticipated Cybertruck, along with other models, but Musk said scaling its production will be difficult, especially given the supply chain delays caused by the pandemic. "It's going to move as fast as the slowest of its up to 10,000 unique parts," he said.
In other news, Musk said Monday's earnings call would likely be his last regular appearance, only jumping on future quarterly calls when big announcements warrant it.
Tesla Solar recently made news when it announced plans to build the nation's most sustainable residential community in Southeast Austin earlier this month. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
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The city of Austin released a shortlist of seven candidates for the police chief position left vacant when Brian Manley retired in March.
City Manager Spencer Cronk hopes to announce an appointment by the end of August, which will require City Council approval.
The finalists, chosen from a field of 46 applicants, include:
- APD Interim Chief Joseph Chacon, who previously served as an assistant chief in the department for almost five years
- Anne Kirkpatrick, former police chief in Oakland, California, who was fired last year after a federal monitor criticized her handling of a fatal 2018 police shooting of a homeless man
- Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Avery L. Moore, who is a 30-year veteran of the department
- Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy, who manages the department's community services division
- Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos, who previously served as division chief in the Miami-Dade Police Department
- Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay, who is a former president of the Minnesota Police Chief's Association as well as one of the first police chiefs of a major U.S. City to call George Floyd's death a murder, as reported by the Wichita Eagle
- Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Emada E. Tingirides, who is also commanding officer of the department's newly formed Community Safety Partnership Bureau, which serves L.A.'s underserved communities
City staff will interview the finalists in the coming weeks, with several community input opportunities to come, according to a Monday press release.
The city conducted a public survey in March and hosted community input meetings in April to learn more about what residents are looking for in their next police chief, which helped shape the selection criteria for the position.
"They want to see the Chief be reform-minded and transparent and have a track record of fostering community involvement and accountability," Cronk said in the release. "The candidates selected show these characteristics in various ways."
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Days after Austin began once again recommending masks in public spaces, Austin ISD announced Monday that kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will have virtual options this fall.
The district will discuss the move in a special board meeting Monday evening starting at 5 p.m., while full details will be released Friday.
Teachers will not have to fret about the new option—no educators will have to juggle both virtual and in-person learning. Instead, certain teachers will specialize in virtual education, according to a press release.
The news comes after a recent spike in COVID cases in Travis County and across the nation. Children typically suffer fewer symptoms of COVID when contracted, but they are now catching the virus more often than their older counterparts without a vaccine available to them and as the more contagious Delta variant is quickly being spread.
While local health officials are recommending everyone wear masks, public school districts are unable to mandate masks due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.
Parents have expressed concern about classrooms with masks unenforceable and children under the age of 12 ineligible for a vaccine. Some have even said they would look for alternative schooling if AISD did not offer a virtual option for students.
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