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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As Austin navigates its homelessness crisis, city voters will decide starting Monday whether to reinstate a ban on sitting, lying and camping in certain areas of the city. Proposition B has drawn impassioned support and opposition and is perhaps the most contentious item on the May 1 ballot.
Austonia received editorials from both sides of the debate. Arguing in favor of Prop B is Cleo Petricek, a Democrat and co-founder, along with Travis County GOP Chairperson Matt Mackowiak, of the Save Austin Now political action committee, which has led the charge to reinstate the camping ban. Opponent Emily Seales is a licensed clinical social worker and advocate with over 20 years of experience working and volunteering in homeless services in Austin and around the country. She is currently on staff at the Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center and is board co-chair of Open Door.
Editor's note: These submissions are the unedited views of their authors. Claims made have not been fact-checked to give the proponent and opponent a chance to speak their minds freely.
Homeless residents have also set up tents along Cesar Chavez Street near Buford Tower, which recently caught fire after a blaze spread from the camp. (Emma Freer)
Pro: Voting yes on Prop B sends a message to council that voters' voices and real solutions are paramount
In June 2019, the Austin City Council rescinded regulations on camping in public spaces. They did so without any serious public discussion and in fact appeared to actively avoid serious scrutiny. The resulting chaos is clear for all to see. Parks and playgrounds impacted by illicit behavior, lewd activities in public, trash strewn in waterways and public spaces, and most critically, assaults on the public and on other homeless individuals.
It is obvious that the homeless are not helped by this misadventure. Vulnerable women and youth in these camps are abused, mentally ill individuals are not served and there is no incentive for substance abusers to seek help.
Proponents of this mess have put forward no credible plan for any short term housing that restores safety—instead they talk about abstract housing concepts that even they acknowledge will take years to develop. This is the mark of narrowly focused activism, not what citizens should expect from elected leaders who promise to serve their communities. At every turn, the proponents of this chaos have demonstrated that they are not capable of fully considering the needs of diverse communities and proposing workable solutions. Instead they simply double down on trying to tell Austin that anything other than their chaos is heartless and inhumane. This is intellectually lazy, and Austin should demand better.
The chaos created by the City Council has resulted in a public outcry culminating in the citizens demanding to be heard by direct ballot. This demand is across the political and economic spectrum. As a co-founder of the Save Austin Now PAC and a lifelong Democrat, I have seen the diversity of people raising their voices in concern for our city.
It's time we turn this situation around and vote yes on Prop B. It sends a clear message to the council that the citizens of Austin must be heard as we work toward real solutions. There are successful models to learn from and some in our own state. But it all starts with voting yes on Prop B starting April 19.
A homeless residents sleeps in the middle of a bike scavenging operation based at a camp under the South Austin overpass. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
Con: Prop B blames homeless individuals rather than providing solutions to societal problems
Austin's homeless population needs help, but Prop B doesn't do anything to solve our city's problems. It simply tells people who are experiencing homelessness that they cannot exist, visibly, in public space. I, too, am worried about the encampments. They are evidence that our strategies to help people return to housing aren't sufficient. But telling people "You can't stay here" without giving them alternatives isn't a solution.
The reason so many people are experiencing homelessness is that it takes a long time to get into housing, even when you do everything right. Shelters are at capacity, we lack deeply affordable housing, landlords can refuse housing vouchers, and housing programs are full.
As a case study, I want to tell you about "Bill," whom I met two years ago. Bill was a veteran, father, former truck driver and person of faith. He was also homeless and unsheltered. Bill had recently suffered a series of strokes and was desperate for both disability income and housing.
Bill and I worked together every single week for 17 months. He eventually was awarded disability and moved into his own apartment.
Bill's situation is typical of hundreds of people who are stymied by our complicated processes and lack of housing. Prop B would not add resources for people like Bill. Read the ballot language. Because Prop B bans "camping," people would have to move around constantly to avoid being cited. All that moving around takes time and energy. People like Bill would have a harder time keeping their appointments with case managers. Unpaid fines from citations build a criminal record—and landlords can choose not to rent to someone with a record. So punishing people for not having housing makes it even harder to get housing. Prop B hurts, not helps.
In this election, Austinites have a choice to criminalize people like Bill or to work toward solutions. Prop B places the blame on individuals rather than recognizing homelessness as a failure of society.Prop B is an inhumane and wrong response. Oppose Prop B, and let's focus on solutions. Learn more here.
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Austin FC's opening match at LAFC has already gotten plenty of buzz, and not just because the team will be playing its first-ever match. The opener will also see two famous fans pitted against each other: Will Ferrell and Matthew McConaughey.
Since he joined the club as a part-time owner in 2019, McConaughey hasn't been quiet about going Verde. The Austin icon has been a hypeman for the team on the Jimmy Kimmel show, spoken with MLS Commissioner Don Garber at SXSW and is vocal about the club on Twitter.
On Tuesday, McConaughey talked all things Austin FC from what appeared to be an Airstream.
"We've been talking about this," McConaughey said. "We've been building this brick by brick. We understand it's Verde, it's listos, but now it's live."
"I just got some chills saying that," McConaughey added.
This weekend will put the club to the test for the first time against LAFC, which also happens to be part-owned by a big Hollywood name. Comedian and actor Will Ferrell will be on the other side of the pitch come Saturday, and he's ready to start a rivalry.
After talking to McConaughey about both teams, Ferrell told Spectrum News he's excited to watch his team play the so-called "Austin Cacti" this season.
"I can only hope for a rivalry," Ferrell said. "I think Austin is going to be a fantastic market for a brand new soccer team, and I can't wait to be there when LAFC plays the 'Austin Cactuses.'"
Talked to Will Ferrell about his connection w/ @McConaughey as @MLS owners. He welcomes a @LAFC rivalry w/ @AustinFC and has his own nickname for the team. 🌵⚽️ @SpecNewsATX #DownhillMovie pic.twitter.com/yTPfTzVchM
— Victor Diaz (@VictorOchoDiaz) February 14, 2020
Now with five days to go, McConaughey said that he and Ferrell had been having a "war with words" over the match and are planning on placing bets before game time.
It's not the first time the two have found themselves on opposing sides of a sport. Back in 2018, Ferrell made his way to Austin to see USC football duke it out with the Longhorns (psst,—UT won.)
McConaughey and Austin FC are hoping to see yet another loss for Ferrell as they head to their first game on Saturday, but the match will be quite the challenge.
The MLS set the opening schedule for more than fame; the newly-formed Austin FC has been one of the most talked-about teams this preseason, and LAFC is projected at No. 2 in the league's power rankings. Austin FC currently sits at No. 21.
Head Coach Josh Wolff has said LAFC has one of the best offenses in the league.
"LAFC has one of the best attacking teams in the league," Wolff said. "They will punish you. They've never been shy of putting up goals, and again, I expect them to be one of the best teams in the league this year."
The club has lived up to Wolff's words: in just their second season of existence, LAFC took first in the Western Conference and were Supporters' Shield winners in 2019.
Austin FC will need to hold off LAFC captain Carlos Vela, a versatile winger/attacking midfielder who won the Most Valuable Player title in 2019, as well as high-scoring forward Diego Rossi.
Meanwhile, LAFC will face challenges in DP Cecilio Dominguez and midfielder Alex Ring, the former NYCFC "ringleader" who has worn the captain's armband already for his newest team. Forward Rodney Redes may or not be playing Saturday due to a "ding" on his knee, but if he does, he'll be a force to be reckoned with as well.
Austin FC's inaugural match will be nationally broadcast on FOX and FOX Deportes and will be featured on Alt 97.5 FM.
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Whether you're in dire need of some deliciously priced food or your favorite cocktails with a twist, Austin restaurants are here to make the best of happy hour.
Here are 9 happy hours around town worth trying.
Licha's Cantina, 1306 E. 6th St.
If you find yourself at Licha's Cantina from Tuesdays to Fridays, we completely understand. The killer happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. is filled with great deals on cocktails, beers and delicious Mexico City-inspired soul food. For drinks, Licha's Cantina offers $6 cocktails such as margaritas, palomas and vampiros as well as deals on Corona and buckets of beer. For a snack, you can enjoy $6 sopecitos, huaraches and quesadillas and $5 exquisite and camote.
Black Sheep Lodge, 2108 S. Lamar Blvd
If you're looking for a reason to enjoy happy hour deals everyday of the week, Black Sheep Lodge has you covered. With different drink specials every day, the bar and grill offers over 120 different beers and cocktails. From Monday to Sunday, you can enjoy $3 Texas pints and liquors, $2 off tequila shots and drinks, $1 12-ounce cans of white trash cans (Lone Star, PBR Tallboys Schlitz, Pearl and more) and so much more. You can check out the full list of specials here.
Parkside, 301 E. 6th St.
A downtown favorite, Parkside has a weekday happy hour from 5 to 6 p.m. that will knock you out of the park. On Mondays, specialty martinis are half off, and from Tuesday to Saturday, you can get half off beer, cocktails and food including fries and oysters from the bar menu. Plus, you can get half off oyster platters and sparkling wine every Wednesday night.
Olive & June, 3411 Glenview Ave.
As part of Chef Shawn Cirkiel's Parkside Projects Restaurant and Hospitality Group, Olive & June is another great choice for getting a great deal during happy hour. From 5 to 6 p.m., you can get half off beer and cocktails plus snack on delicious antipasti options.
Café No Sé, 1603 S. Congress Ave
Rosé lovers will be happy to know there is a place in town where you can get 25% off all bottles and great reverse happy hour specials. Café No Sé offers a reverse happy hour everyday from 6 to 8 p.m. with $2 off beer, wine and menu cocktails, plus a speciality treat of 25% off bottles of rose everyday. That's seven days a week to enjoy great deals on wine and get the most out of happy hour time.
Uchiko, 4200 N. Lamar Blvd.
Uchiko, the upscale sushi restaurant connected with the beloved Uchi, has a sake social everyday from 4 to 6 p.m. that might be one of the best deals in town. Award-winning chef Tyson Cole's blended knowledge on Japanese food and creativity in dishes is worth a visit any day of the week, but sake social is a happy hour not worth missing. You can find the menu for the sake social at Uchiko here.
P6, 111 E. Cesar Chavez St.
At the LINE austin, you will find a rooftop lounge with great happy hour specials, tasty cocktails and a great view. P6, located at the way top of the hotel, has a list of specialty curated Mediterranean small plates such as artisanal cheeses, whipped feta roasted tomato dip and more as well as seasonal cocktails that will make your visit worth it. Happy hour is Monday through Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. You can find the menu for happy hour at P6 here.
Clark's Oyster Bar, 1200 W. 6th St.
Clark's Oyster Bar has a happy hour that will cheer up any Austinite, and on any day. From 3 to 5 p.m., any day of the week, you can find yourself ordering an unhealthy amount of oysters as they are 50 cents off. On weekdays, the happy hour includes half off burgers, $5 martinis, oyster shooters and draft beer. On weekends, Clark's has half off bottles of wine and $5 oyster shooters.
The Peached Tortilla, 5520 Burnet Road #100
From 5 to 7 p.m daily, The Peached Tortilla offers a happy hour with delicious bites and great cocktails. The happy hour includes $5 beers, $6 wine and cocktails, $4 tacos, $5 snacks such as shishito peppers and crispy fries and a $9 burger with peached sauce, american cheese, miso caramelized onions, japanese pickles and lettuce. You can find the menu for happy hour at Peached Tortilla here.
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