Welcome to town!
This week, you'll see stories useful for someone new to Austin in anticipation of Austonia's "How to Austin" event. To attend, sign up here.
Although the pandemic rages on and many of Austin's most iconic attractions—live-music venues, honky tonks and long lines outside of barbecue joints—remain closed, people continue to flock to the city.
Based on 2018-19 population estimates outlined in an October report by the Austin Chamber, the metro is now growing by 168 net new residents each day, mostly thanks to people who relocate here. And there are already indicators that suggest Austin's growth has continued amid COVID-19.
Being new to town is something of a common experience among Austinites, with natives sometimes referred to as "unicorns" due to their rarity. Still, recent arrivals may find the city foreign in unexpected ways. Here are eight things to know while settling in.
1. Where are people moving from?
More than half of new Austin residents come from other parts of Texas, according to the Chamber report. Californians, who are sometimes blamed for Austin's growing pains, made up 8% of migration to the Austin metro between 2014 and 2018, followed by New Yorkers (3.3%), Floridians (3.1%) and Illinoisans (2.3%).
In more recent news, the Wall Street Journal dubbed Austin a magnet for new corporate jobs last month, thanks to its lower costs (and taxes) compared to San Francisco and New York City. Between April and October 2020, for every one person who left Austin for the Bay Area, almost three people moved in the opposite direction, and for every one person who left Austin for New York City, more than two New Yorkers came to Austin.
LinkedIn also reported that Austin gained the most newcomers of any city in the country in 2020, based on an analysis of its 174 million U.S. users.
2. Is it really a blueberry in a bowl of tomato soup?
(Charlie L. Harper III)
(Charlie L. Harper III)
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry once likened Austin to a blueberry in a bowl of tomato soup because of its liberal politics in a red state.
Texas hasn't voted Democrat in a presidential election since 1976. In that time, Travis County—which includes most of the city of Austin—went blue in all but one race, in 2000, when then Texas Gov. George Bush was first elected.
Today, Austin is governed by an 11-person council, with 10 members who are self-described Democrats, and the county is governed by an all-Democrat Commissioners Court. Its elected officials have voted to support paid sick leave, police budget cuts, affordable housing investments and immigrant protections, often facing pushback from state officials and lawmakers.
But Austin is no longer the only blueberry in this unappetizing metaphor. Bexar, Dallas and Harris counties—home to Texas' three largest cities—also vote reliably Democratic, as do as an increasing number of suburban counties.
3. Where does Austin stand in terms of affordability?
Austin housing costs have risen dramatically since the late 1990s as an increasing number of affluent residents moved into urban core neighborhoods, displacing low-income residents, according to a 2018 report by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin.
This trend has been most pronounced in the city's Eastern Crescent, where historically low housing costs drew in affluent residents. One reason these neighborhoods were relatively affordable is because of segregation codified by the city's 1928 master plan, which limited public services for Black residents to a "negro district" east of I-35.
Austin City Council has made significant investments in recent years in an attempt to address the affordability crisis, including approving a $250 million affordable housing bond, which voters approved in 2018, and earmarking $300 million in anti-displacement funding as part of Project Connect, a $7.1 billion transit plan now in the works.
But housing—and especially affordable housing—remains limited in Austin. Council has spent nearly a decade on a land use code rewrite, which urbanists say could help address the dearth of so-called missing-middle type housing.
4. What is CodeNEXT and why do I keep seeing signs about it?
CodeNEXT refers to an attempt by the city of Austin to rewrite its land use code, which determines how land can be used throughout the city, including what can be built, where it can be built and how much of it can be built. The code was last rewritten in the mid-1980s.
The CodeNEXT process began in 2012 and aimed to streamline local zoning rules and allow for denser and more affordable housing in accordance with population growth. But in 2018 Austin Mayor Steve Adler scrapped the effort, which he wrote had become "divisive and poisoned," and asked the city manager to create a new process.
The second attempt at a rewrite began in 2019 but is currently on hold due to a lawsuit.
But signs declaring "CodeNEXT wrecks Austin" and "CodeNEXT is BACK" remain posted in many yards around town. Multiple community groups organized in opposition to the rewrite, which members claim is exclusive, panders to developers and will destroy neighborhoods. Supporters, on the other hand, argue that single-family zoning stands in the way of a more equitable, sustainable Austin, at best, and is racist and classist, at worst.
5. What are some of the other major policy issues I should know about?
In addition to housing, which ties in the related issues of affordability, gentrification and zoning, the city of Austin is also focused on:
- The pandemic, including an equitable vaccine rollout and preventing evictions
- Police reform, including revamping its training academy amid reports of racism and hazing
- Public transit and traffic congestion
6. How bad is the traffic situation here?
Austin is the 18th most congested city in the country, according to the latest traffic scorecard from analytics company INRIX in 2019, with the average driver spending 69 hours in congestion a year at a cost of $1,021.
Rapid population growth has led to longer commutes and more traffic. But local and state officials say that Project Connect and a forthcoming expansion of I-35 will help address the gridlock.
Austinites overwhelmingly approved a property tax rate increase last November that will help pay for Project Connect, a 15-year, $7.1 billion plan to overhaul public transit and bring light rail to town.
The Texas Department of Transportation similarly touts its $7.5 billion I-35 expansion project, which proposes to widen the highway up to 20 lanes between Hwy. 290 and Ben White Boulevard, as a salve for congestion. Critics, however, dispute this claim, arguing that similar expansion projects in other cities have led to induced demand.
7. There were some major Black Lives Matter protests in Austin last summer. Did anything change?
After mass protests against police violence and racial injustice last spring and summer, Austin City Council voted unanimously in August to cut the Austin Police Department budget by around 5%, becoming the first city to do so amid activists' calls to "defund the police." The main impact of this decision was the cancellation of three planned cadet classes at the department's training academy, which has raised concerns in recent years due to its "paramilitary" culture.
Council members also approved moving 32.5% of the department's budget into transitional funds that will allow several of APD's traditional duties to continue while officials work out which to move from under police oversight.
Criminal justice reform activists also called for the resignation of APD Chief Brian Manley, who remains in his position.
8. Why do I keep hearing about homelessness?
As the city becomes increasingly unaffordable, homelessness grows more acute. It has also proven to be a political lightning rod, dividing city residents and incurring criticism from state Republican lawmakers.
The point-in-time count, an annual census conducted by the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition each January, found a 45% increase in the city's unsheltered population between 2019 and 2020, which the organization attributed to increased volunteerism and better counting methods.
But many disputed this explanation, blaming it on the City Council's controversial 2019 decision to overturn a ban on public camping.
9. Is it just me or are there a lot of elections here?
It can sometimes feel like there is an election every other month in Texas. Last year, there were five: a March primary to determine who would run in the November general election, May local elections, a July primary runoff for those March races, the November general election and a December runoff.
One reason for this is the runoff elections, which tend to have lower turnout. Texas, like some other former Confederate states, still holds primary and general runoff elections for those races in which no one candidate earns at least 50% of the vote.
The next election is on May 1. City officials are in the process of reviewing two citizen-led petitions. If validated, they will be placed on the upcoming ballot, where Austin voters will determine their fate. One, submitted by the political action committee Austinites for Progressive Reform, aims to increase voter turnout through a series of charter amendments. The other seeks to reinstate the camping ban.
More information on how to register to vote as a Travis County resident can be found here.
- Austin reigns as top Tech Town for the second year in a row - austonia ›
- Austin named most popular city for newcomers of the year - austonia ›
- Wall Street Journal dubs Austin a "magnet" for new jobs - austonia ›
- Migration insights of Austin, who is moving to the city and who is ... ›
- The intrepid: How brand-new Austin residents are connecting to the ... ›
- 11 places to get the best views in Austin - austonia ›
- Where to find the best barbecue in Austin - austonia ›
- Austin restaurants Easter takeout meals to buy - austonia ›
- Where to find the best barbecue in Austin - austonia ›
- Community members stand opposed to I-35 expansion - austonia ›
- 7 things to do in Austin if you’re not going to ACL - austonia ›
- Central Texas leaders head to D.C. to talk regional funding priorities - austonia ›
Live Music Capital of the World. Mecca of all things "weird." City of hippies, slackers and honky tonks—Austin's reputation was once synonymous with all things "cool."
But after three years as the top city to live in the U.S., Austin fell to No. 13 in the U.S. News & World Report's ranking this year.
For over a hundred years, Austinites have lamented that their city's charm is gone, and some continue to worry that the city has swapped too many of its grittier live music venues for gleaming corporate towers.
Has Austin's coolness taken a fall from grace? Here's a look at what could be affecting Austin's reputation.
Migration and affordability—not so cool
3. The median priced home costs $635K, while the median Austin resident can only afford a $438K home.— Nik Shah 🏡 (@NikhaarShah) June 16, 2022
This affordability gap of $187K is 3x higher than at the national level! pic.twitter.com/CH036nj8Nn
There can always be too much of a good thing–including dating profiles bragging about packing up and moving to Austin.
Austin saw a higher growth rate than any other U.S. city from 2010-2020 as the metro attracted 171,465 newcomers in a decade.
With highly publicized move-ins including billionaire Elon Musk, podcaster Joe Rogan and tech HQs, came a gaggle of Californians eager to eke out a living in the burgeoning "boomtown" paradise.
An affordability crisis ensued.
Young people, who often serve as the drumbeat of a city's "coolness," are quickly being priced out amid skyrocketing rent. While a Rent.com study ranked Austin as one of the best cities for young professionals in 2022, the city's share of 20-24-year-old residents was 7.5% of the population in 2019—down from 8.6% in 2010.
And the so-called "slackers" that helped make Austin famous are now struggling to survive in a city where the median price for a home is now $550,000, especially as many in the city's creative class make well below a living wage.
Live music and things to do—still cool
The outside, Zilker, Towne Lake, Barton Springs, dozens of decent hiking within the area. This is the advantage, do the free outside stuff (Austin has wonderful patio restaurants, etc but then the 💵 goes) More time inside less advantage to living here.— Trust_w/o_Journey_Is_Compliance (@runningman902) June 7, 2022
Austin was famously dubbed the "Live Music Capital of the World" in 1991 when officials discovered that the city had more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. And with 46.4 venues per 100,000 residents in 2018, that mantra remained largely true for years.
After the worst of the COVID pandemic, which was estimated to shutter up to 70% of music venues in the Red River Cultural District alone, the city's live music scene has worked hard to bounce back. The city now has the fifth-highest number of small music venues per capita in the nation and comes in at No. 4 among the best live music cities in the U.S., per a 2022 Clever.com study.
And many of Austin's unique attractions remain timeless. While paddle boarding on Town Lake has become overcrowded and even caused swimmer's itch for some, outdoor attractions like Barton Springs Pool, the Barton Creek Greenbelt and other Hill Country swimming holes remain a popular pastime.
And while the coolness of Sixth Street has become riddled with violence and safety concerns, the city still boasts plenty of nightlife districts.
Instead of the Armadillo Den of Austin yore, the new Austin boasts bachelorette party entertainment on West Sixth Street, intimate concerts in East Austin and a refuge for tech professionals on booming Rainey Street.
Keeping Austin Weird—barely hanging on
If you know...you know pic.twitter.com/auDQyVurUy— Evil MoPac (@EvilMopacATX) September 3, 2021
Leslie Cochran, the high-heel-wearing homeless man who personified the "Keep Austin Weird" movement, is long gone. In his place are controversial attempts at keeping that mindset alive, including an Instagrammable sculpture of the mantra approved by the city's Historic Landmark Commission in February.
But pockets of that signature Austin feel still exist. It's not uncommon to see Sam Greyhorse riding on his horse on South Congress.
And while South Congress is losing longtime businesses and gaining luxury retailers in its new Music Lane development, other areas—like Barton Springs—still retain their carefree, old Austin feel.
New "weird" strongholds have cropped up as well, like Austin FC's Q2 Stadium, where 20,500 soccer fans gather to chant Austin's mantras, lift up inflatable chickens and celebrate their community.
"Cooler" alternatives emerge
Moving out of Austin is so good for your mental health.— 𝒟𝑜𝓁𝓁𝓎 𝒷𝒶𝒷𝓎 🥂 (@adeeoxox) July 30, 2021
Still, Austin's residents are facing the second-most overvalued housing market in the nation, and many are looking for greener—and cooler—pastures.
Instead of cross-continent moves, some new move-ins are now relocating to nearby cities, according to a Placer.ai study. The study found that Austin's "boomtown" status could already be overshadowed by new tech markets like Philadelphia, Phoenix and Raleigh, North Carolina.
And even within the state, Austin fell behind Dallas, Houston and San Antonio as Texas' most sought-after city.
- In 2021, Austin became a hub for tech, pickleball, poker, crypto ... ›
- Keeping Austin weird: 9 times 'the People's Republic of Austin' was ... ›
- Austinites have been complaining about the city losing its weird ... ›
- Austin's luxury Soho House opens today for local creatives - austonia ›
- Austin's women in tech: Silicon Valley 'bro culture' could add to ... ›
- Austin culture makes it a top city for 'digital nomads' ›
- Minister of Culture Matthew McConaughey talks preserving Austin ... ›
Austin has been in the national spotlight for more than extreme growth—the last two years have brought a handful of violent crimes, missing persons cases and shootings.
Some of the most heartbreaking cases have yet to be solved. Here's a small update on some ongoing, high-profile cases in Austin.
Moriah Wilson | Suspect still on the run
Star biker Moriah Wilson was found dead in her East Austin home.
Professional cyclist Moriah “Mo” Wilson’s alleged killer, Kaitlin Armstrong, is still on the run and was last spotted leaving LaGuardia Airport in New York City on May 14—three days before the Austin Police Department obtained a warrant for her arrest.
Wilson was shot to death in her home on May 11 just hours after she went swimming with fellow cyclist Colin Strickland, who Armstrong had previously dated. Strickland said it was never a secret that he dated 25-year-old Wilson and had “no indication” Armstrong would react violently, as she had been dating other people as well.
While Wilson’s family said they don’t believe she was romantically involved with anyone, the case is being investigated as a crime of passion.
Investigators believe Armstrong might be using her sister’s name, Christine Armstrong, in New York State. A $5,000 reward has been issued for information leading to her capture.
Timothy Perez | Missing since March 2022(Robert Perez)Conroe couple Robert and Sandra Perez haven’t seen their son, 32-year-old Timothy Perez, since he left to go visit his brother in Austin on March 5. The couple said he got lost and called Robert for help at 1 a.m. before the call disconnected.
"He said, 'Dad, come get me, I'm lost,'" Robert Perez told Austonia. "I said, 'Pull, over,' but he just hung up, and we were never able to get a hold of him."The Austin Police Department found Timothy’s car—cold and with an empty tank—around 15 miles from his brother’s home at 4:30 a.m. the same morning
Timothy was last spotted again that morning when Round Rock Police responded to a welfare check called in by St. William Catholic Church. RRPD photographed him, said Timothy refused to identify himself and left without incident; Timothy wasn’t reported missing until a few days later.
According to EquuSearch, Timothy’s phone pinged briefly in Conroe on March 16 but hasn’t been located since. RRPD officials said they believe Timothy is voluntarily missing based on his interaction with officers.
But his parents think Timothy might've suffered a nervous breakdown and still drive from Conroe to Austin every few days to look for their son.Due to the sighting at the church, APD closed its missing person case on April 8 but Round Rock Police still lists Timothy as missing.
Timothy is a 6'2, 180 lb. Hispanic man with shoulder-length black hair, a full beard, and brown eyes. Anyone with information on Timothy Perez's disappearance can call the family's private investigator at 512-844-7933.
Jason Landry | Missing since December 2020
More than 31,000 acres were combed through to find missing Texas State student Jason Landry. (Caldwell County Sheriff's Office)
Texas State University student Jason Landry went missing on Dec. 13, 2020, after his car was found abandoned in Luling as he was driving home from nearby San Marcos to Missouri City, Texas, for winter break.
Landry’s car was found crashed with keys still in the ignition and all of his personal possessions, including his clothing, some with drops of blood, and phone, but no one in sight.
As conspiracies have swirled around the internet about what might've happened that night, Capt. Jeff Ferry, who is the lead investigator on the case, said "no doubt this is a tragedy… but it’s not a crime.”
More than a year later, friends and family of Landry are still searching for him and have erected billboards reminding locals of his disappearance and offering a $10,000 reward: one going southbound on I-35 and another along U.S. Hwy. 183 north of Luling.
The billboards were leased for 13 weeks in April but they may extend the rental—meanwhile, the case is in the hands of the Texas Attorney General Cold Case and Missing Persons unit. Anyone with information is asked to call (512) 936-0742.
- Search resumes for missing Texas State student Jason Landry ... ›
- Texas State student Jason Landry still missing one year later ... ›
- Austin-area cyclist charged in murder of biking star Moriah Wilson ... ›
- Watch: Austin police chief weighs in on city's deadliest year in ... ›
- Austin police find two dead in a West Austin home Friday - austonia ›
- Alleged drunk driver hits two Austin police officers - austonia ›
- Up to 18 Austin police officers could be charged with excessive force ... ›