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Peter Northfelt is graduating from the University of Texas-Austin with a master's degree in advertising this May. Before the coronavirus pandemic, he planned to move to Los Angeles. Now, he's moving back to Phoenix, where his family lives, because many advertising companies aren't hiring and he's unable to support himself on unemployment benefits alone.
"I was graduating anyway, so I was going to move," Northfelt said. "It's just a matter of, the world was really big and then the world became really small."
Northfelt is among many Austin residents whose relocation plans have been impacted in some way by the pandemic. The economic impact of the virus, as well as uncertainty about when it will end and concerns about transmission, have provided fewer customers to local realtors. But, according to data and industry experts, there may be financial benefits for those who choose to relocate.
Moving is considered essential under the local "Stay Home-Work Safe" orders, which were issued on March 24 and recently extended through May 8. While some renters are postponing moves, others are taking advantage of lower rents and other specials offered as property owners try to adapt to the current marketplace.
Natalie Young is a licensed real estate agent and manager of A+ Apartment Locators in North Austin. Her office remains open, although it has seen a drop in customers.
"I think honestly some people don't know they can still move during this time," she said.
Although some customers have decided to pause their apartment search, others sense an opportunity.
Between March 31 and April 21 Austin rents decreased 1.1% overall, according to a market report compiled by ApartmentData.com. This may seem like a minor change, but Cindi Reed, the company's director of business development, said otherwise.
"Considering most management companies are budgeting rental rate increases of anywhere between 3-5%, a -1.5% effect in your budget compared to what a normal increase has been, it's significant," she said.
Perhaps more telling is the change in the local absorption rate, which shows the difference in occupied apartments from one month to the next. April is traditionally one of the busiest months for new leases, Reed said, and last year the Austin market absorbed 1,204 units in April. By April 21 of this year, however, the market absorbed 128 units—a nearly 90% change.
"[Apartments] kind of had the upper hand," Young said of the Austin rental market pre-pandemic. "And the tables have turned really overnight to where now they're reaching out to us to meet clients."
Young and her colleagues are now showing customers prospective apartments over Zoom using videos recorded by property management companies.
Emily Blair, executive vice president of the Austin Apartment Association, said that while fewer people are looking at apartments than usual, there is a higher closing rate among those who are. She added that more renters are choosing to extend their lease to avoid moving during a pandemic.
Logistically, Northfelt said the moving process hasn't changed much, but not every step of moving can be adapted for a pandemic.
"Usually … you have a going-away party [or] go to a music venue that you always loved," Northfelt said. "I'm sorry that I can't say goodbye to [Texas] in the way that I was expecting."
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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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