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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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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