Rekindling the Austin flame: Why burnt-out Austinites choose to stay even with the mounting woes of 'New Austin'
When Mark Coffey moved to Austin in 1986, it was the land of Stevie Ray Vaughan shows, MTV and new opportunities.
Now, it may be the land of limited housing, property tax hikes and California license plates—but many are still choosing to stay for remnants of that old-school charm.
Austinites love to lament the loss of “Old Austin”—they’ve been saying it since 1884. And with one-bedroom rents up 112%, home appraisal rates up 56% and the cost of living on a seemingly endless upward trend, it's hard not to see Austin's past through rose-tinted lenses.
But even in money-stretching times like these, some Austinites are taking a break from their usual complaints to remind themselves why they choose to stay.
Mark Coffey has stayed in Austin for decades due to its uniqueness, inclusivity and community. (Mark Coffey)
As a near-original Austinite, Mark Coffey didn't have too much trouble buying a house or finding a job with pension benefits at a local utility service decades ago. Still, he said he's stayed in Austin for more than financial security.
"Despite the cost of living, the brutal heat and traffic... I think the trade-off is that Austin has always kind of had that sense of possibility," Coffey told Austonia. "Of all the cities in Texas, it's been the most open to change and future possibilities and I don't think that's ever completely lost."
Austin's unique spirit has attracted like-minded small-town Texas kids looking for community. Gabriel Rodriguez, who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, moved to Austin a few years ago after graduating from Texas State University and still hasn't become bored with the vibrant live music scene.
Gabriel Rodriguez, who has experience as a musician has found a home in Austin's live music scene and with Austin FC. (Gabriel Rodriguez)
"The big thing to me was the music," Rodriguez said. "That's what made me want to move to Austin in the first place... I grew up in a place that didn't have that."
Coffey, Rodriguez and many others have also found the Austin spirit with Austin FC, the city's first major league sports team, and its vibrant and community-minded fanbase.
Reason for being in love: Austin FC.
— Micky Ruñoz (@HighMs66) June 7, 2022
"Austin FC has come around and it's caused both old and new Austinite to kind of rally around something that like, yeah, this is our club, but it's also a statement about the kind of community we want to be," Coffey said.
For others, like Michelle Sanchez, Austin is home for many reasons—namely, a famed food scene, family and plenty of outdoor activities.
Proud, Austinite. I love Zilker (all the greenbelts), people for the most part are friendly, soccer, the food, and the fact that my family lives here. <3 I have thought about leaving once my contract is up.
— Michelle Sánchez (@MichelleS_tv) June 7, 2022
In a Reddit post that saw nearly 800 comments, dozens of users pointed to outdoor activities—from Barton Creek's Greenbelt swimming holes to paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake and trails dotting the city's outskirts. Others said that despite its flaws, they've never found anywhere better.
"Austin doesn't do anything spectacularly, but does more things adequately than most anywhere I can think of," user boyyhowdy said.
However, for some, those "adequacies" still aren't enough to stay.
Over austin too. I resigned a (sub)lease for a super small studio that’s 40% lower than the average 1 bedroom in Austin. This will be my last year in Austin, so I’m staying to save money then move to a city with actual public transit and ditching my car.
— amanduh (taylor's version) (@hey_amanduhh) June 7, 2022
Rodriguez said he's thought of leaving too. But whenever he thinks too long about the city's flaws, he finds solace in Austin's live music venues, including his favorite, Moody Theater. Coffey, meanwhile, recommends longtime spots like Continental Club, the Broken Spoke or even South Congress for a quick "old Austin" fix.
And with housing prices showing signs of slowing down and longtime haunts like Austin's longest-standing grocery store opening back up, there still may be time to reignite a romance with what "Keeps Austin Weird."
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After serving as a staple gift shop on South Congress for decades, Tesoros Trading Co. announced via social media it is retiring and closing shop in mid-June.
The cultural haven shop announced its future closure on Instagram, saying it would offer 50% off on its diverse inventory including furniture, scarves, textiles, rugs and dishes.
The post read: “After 33 years on Congress Avenue, the Tesoros store is retiring! Visit us through mid-June to take advantage of the many sales!”
Tesoros offers gifts from an array of countries, including Brazil, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Spain, Turkey and Vietnam.
The owners, Jonathan Williams and Kisla Jimenez, opened the business in 1989 and moved it to South Congress 14 years ago. Though in-store operations will cease, the company will still operate its online store.
Fans reacted in the comments saying they were sad to see the landmark go.
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Austin may still be the most expensive metro area for Texas renters, with reports of rent rising upwards of 25-40%, but the apartment hunting process can still be daunting no matter your budget.
There are a lot of neighborhoods, apartment complexes and prices floating around, which can make the already difficult hunting process more confusing. Smart City apartment locator and lifelong Austinite Maddie Hastings told Austonia which areas are trendiest, cheapest, most over-hyped and hidden gems.
Quick tips from Hastings:
- Don’t do it alone: Apartment locators offer free services from licensed real estate agents that usually have “behind the scenes” information.
- Don’t rely on online prices: Apartment prices change every day and third-party websites usually don’t have up-to-date information on capacity or current rates.
- Take everything with a grain of salt: Read recent reviews and try to see through photos of staged units.
Hottest: Downtown, Barton Springs and South Congress(Earl McGehee/CC)
Hastings said only a small portion of people she locates have previously lived in the Austin area—with the city’s growth, many come from Chicago, New York or the West Coast.
New residents tend to want to be near Austin’s most famous landmarks like Zilker Park, Barton Springs and Downtown, Hastings said. The problem is that housing in those areas is often limited and expensive, between $1,918-$3,163 on average, according to RentCafe, though she understands the hype.
“I do like South Austin because I feel like it's more accessible and easier to get downtown—it's close to Zilker Park, close to Barton Springs,” Hastings said. “A lot of people want to be downtown and the rest want to be in that South Central area where South Lamar, South Congress and South First is.”
Not: North Austin suburbs and Riverside(Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock)
Hastings said it isn’t that she doesn’t place people in apartments in places like Round Rock, Pflugerville and Cedar Park, it just tends to be people that work in the area, are specifically looking to live in the area or have an “outside reason” drawing them there.”
Meanwhile, Hastings said that one neighborhood she consistently hears people don’t want to live in is Riverside, which is a cheaper option with the average tenant paying $1,583 per month, according to RentCafe.
Though Hastings says not to let that taint your image of East Austin. If you like the price but don’t want to live in Riverside, Hastings recommends looking at apartments in Montopolis and Pleasant Valley.
“They do have some nice, newer complexes,” Hastings said. “So for me, I mean, it's a great way to get a good price on a new place that's close to downtown.”
Most underrated: Mueller and Southpark Meadows
Though it may be on the more expensive side, about $2,000 on average for a one-bedroom, Hastings said she really enjoyed living in the Mueller area herself. The perks: It’s relatively newly developed, home to the biggest farmer’s market in town, has restaurants and coffee shops, trails and feels like a good neighborhood area.
“I personally love Mueller,” Hastings said. “It has that neighborhood feel but it's one of the few walkable areas in Austin. I really like that you get everything you need, right in that little area, and it's so close to Central Austin and downtown.”
Hastings also said she loves living in Southpark Meadows, which may be a bit cheaper, has easy highway access, nearby shopping and may also land you a newer building.
“If it was me looking on my own, and I had to consider money, that's personally where I would recommend people to get the most bang for their buck,” Hastings said.
Most overrated: South Lamar and The Domain(Peter French/CC)
Hastings said she understands the immediate appeal behind wanting to live at The Domain—the shopping, restaurants, glamor and bar scene—but doesn’t like the traffic, higher price tag and lack of “Austin” character”
Plus, Hastings said she doesn’t often see people living there for long.
“People move to Austin because it's quirky and different and while The Domain is a good time, it's just super commercialized so you're not really getting the Austin experience,” Hastings said. “It's not my favorite, I've definitely leased a few people in The Domain and then after a year they’re like, ‘Yeah, I'm over it, I'm ready to be somewhere else.’”
Hastings had opposite things to say about South Lamar—she thinks it embodies the city’s character—but there just isn’t enough housing to go around right now because it’s in such high demand. Plus, it has a pricey average rent at $1,918, according to RentCafe.
“I understand why everyone wants to live on South Lamar—that’s where everyone wants to be,” Hastings said. “And I can't really say it's overrated because there are so many restaurants and things to do.”
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