"You don't know what you have until it's gone," Jay, a 25-year-old researcher at the University of Texas told Austonia. He held a boat party on Lake Travis to celebrate himself and his friends getting vaccinated, something that has been taboo in the pandemic sphere.
After a year of staying indoors, social distancing and attending school online, Jay, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid potential backlash, said he feels relieved and has been enjoying activities he wasn't able to do as freely prior to vaccination: going to bars, having friends over and being around more than 10 people at a time.
"It made going to Zilker Park, a place that I've been to a number of times before, even more special," Jay said. "It also felt like this is one step closer to normalcy so it's definitely a comforting feeling."
As the curve flattens and vaccines become more widely available—with 61.22% of eligible Travis County residents at least partially vaccinated—"normal" is starting to return. And many vaccinated Austinites are rejoicing over their newfound freedom.
This coming Friday it will be the end of my two weeks of lockdown since my second vaccine shot. And you know what that means! As that classic song goes 🎵"I'm gonna party like it's the early part of 2019 before a deadly pandemic killed all of us."🎵 EVERYBODY! 👏 👏 👏
— Nathan Minger (@NathanMinger) May 3, 2021
My vaccinated powers have officially become fully activated 💥 pic.twitter.com/dNDbtZ8FcU
— Libby Koch (@libbykoch) April 15, 2021
Thirty-four-year-old Fabian Puente, an artist and musician, kept a tight-knit group of friends throughout the pandemic, so he could maintain a social life without worrying about catching the virus, but has since enjoyed eating out, going to the greenbelt and seeing movies in theaters since getting vaccinated.
"I feel like Superman," Puente, said. "The risk is much lower and that eases my mind a lot."
The pandemic has permanently changed him though—Puente said he's more conscious about washing his hands clean and still wears his mask to keep others safe. He doesn't feel quite normal yet, but he said that will change when he is able to go to concerts and perform again.
Groups that didn't feel safe meeting before most were vaccinated are now not only meeting in-person but also traveling together. Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, was only able to hold a few in-person events before the pandemic. They've since started meeting again, the group has traveled to Minnesota, Colorado and California to watch games, attend outdoor watch parties and hold frequent events at Hopsquad Brewing.
"It has been a big release this spring to get back out and a lot of times meet people, lots of people that I've only known through Slack over the last year or on Twitter," member Jeremiah Bentley said. "It's been really joyful because a lot of us haven't had the chance to really actually spend much of any time together."
Bentley said that even though a lot of people in their group are enjoying being able to meet in person, they are still continuing Zoom events for those who aren't ready to face the world again and will continue to do so until everyone is comfortable meeting in person.
"The most important thing we can do is police our own," Bentley said. "The first Austin FC match at home is on June 19 and we'd all love to be in a full stadium together, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, and the only way that's going to happen is if a significant number of people get vaccinated between now and then."
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Officials are asking certain residents in Bastrop State Park to evacuate as crews work to put out a “very active fire” that is currently 0% contained.
The Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to help local fire departments with the Rolling Pines Fire at 100 Park Road 1A, which is consuming 300 acres. Residents of Pine Hill Drive, Pine Tree Loop, Linda Lane and Lisa Lane are being asked to evacuate.
Today’s Bastrop Rolling Pines Fire is burning along Power Plant Road towards Lake Bastrop South Shore. pic.twitter.com/YCvJkIAg1u
— BastropCntyTexas OEM (@BastropCntyOEM) January 18, 2022
Aviation resources have been called to assist.
According to the Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management, the wildfire sparked during a prescribed burn that took place today, despite wildfire warnings. Park Road 1C from Harmon Road to Park Road 1A had been closed for the prescribed burn.
The blaze is in the same location as the Bastrop Complex Fire of 2011, which burned for 55 days, killing two people, destroying 34,000 acres and around 1,700 homes and buildings. The fire, which started in 2011, became the most destructive wildfire in Texas at the time.
A hotbed for fires, the Hidden Pines Fire started at the same location in 2015, destroying 4,600 acres and 64 structures.
Some road closures have been put in place at State Highway 21 South Shore Lake Bastrop and East State Highway 21.
This is a developing story and will be updated as information becomes available.
After months of record-setting periods for Austin real estate, the Austin Board of Realtors announced Tuesday that the metro's housing market accounted for over $23 billion of economic activity in 2021, making it the biggest year yet for both home sales and median home prices in the metro.
The Austin-Round Rock MSA saw 41,316 homes sold in 2021, 2.5% more than a record-setting 2020. Median home prices skyrocketed as well, rising 30.8% from 2020 to $450,000. The housing market also saw unprecedented impact on Austin's economy, with sales dollar volume jumping to over $23.38 billion, and more homes hit the market in 2021 than any previous year, increasing by 5.9% to 46,449 total homes listed.
(Austin Board of Realtors)
As many recent Austin homebuyers have experienced firsthand, Austin Board of Realtors 2022 President Cord Shiflet said 2021 was the most "exciting, complicated, fast-paced and record-setting housing market" in Austin's history.
Shiflet dubbed the market as "complicated" for a reason—Austin became a case study on supply and demand in 2021, with demand far outpacing the number of active listings, which dropped by 48.2% to 2,348 homes in 2021.
The metro ended the year with 0.6 months of inventory, a far cry from a "healthy" six-month supply, and houses were snatched at breakneck speeds, spending 25 fewer days on the market when compared to 2020. The average home was on the market for 20 days.
But low inventory is more due to high demand than a stagnant homebuilding market, Mark Sprague, Independence Title's state director of information capital, said in the report.
“In 2021, the record number of homes sold were demand-driven transactions and that demand was influenced greatly by companies continuing to target the region for job creation and expansion," Sprague said. "Even though more homes are being built, listed and sold than ever before, our region is still nowhere close to having a comfortable amount of supply to meet the demand, which is why home prices continue to rise steadily.”
Over 23,000 jobs have been promised by companies across the metro as of December 2021, breaking the 2020 record, according to Opportunity Austin, the economic development arm of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. With an influx of major factories and offices, including Tesla's Giga Texas, Samsung's Taylor plant and a planned 33-floor Facebook office, Sprague said the region's booming market paired with a struggling inventory and supply chain issues could be a double-edged sword in 2022.
"In short, 2022 will see a robust market for home sales and property values, but the region must do more to address inventory, ” Sprague said.
Shiflet recommended that potential homebuyers make a decision ahead of predicted increases in interest rates and home prices and said that he hopes local politicians will continue to prioritize affordable housing in the election year.
Still, Shiflet said a record-breaking housing market reflects Austin's growing reputation as a hub for talent, tech jobs and a good quality of life.
"With all the new jobs across the region from exciting companies like Tesla and Samsung, Austin was put on the world’s stage and captured the hearts and attention of so many," Shiflet said. "We are lucky to call Austin our home when it has so much to offer from a great quality of life to a wonderful destination for innovation and opportunity.”
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