Commentary: How housing costs are changing Central Texas’ demographics

The demographic trends in Texas are clear: The combination of a youthful Latino population and an aging white population has led to Latino dominance in the state’s population growth. Between 2006 and 2016, the Latino population grew six times more rapidly than the white population. Of the nearly 4.4 million persons added to the Texas population during this period, 57 percent are Latino, while 12 percent are white. This is pretty much the trend that we find throughout the state.

Austin stands apart from this demographic trend. White growth outpaced Latino growth in the city during this period: 32 percent versus 28 percent, respectively, according to one-year estimates from the 2006 and 2016 American Community Surveys. Of the nearly 231,000 Austinites added to the city’s population during this 10-year period, whites accounted for 48 percent, while Latinos made up 31 percent of the growth.

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No other city in Texas for which data are available in the 2006 and 2016 American Community Surveys has a similar pattern, except for Dallas, where whites increased by 8 percent compared to Latinos, who increased by 6 percent.

Why does Austin deviate from the general demographic trends of the state? There are certainly demographic factors that account for part of Austin’s unique population trend.

Austin is a dynamic city featuring a relatively young white population, with many migrating from other parts of the country, compared to most other cities in the state. For example, the median age of whites in Austin is 36 compared to 42 for all whites in the rest of the state. Approximately 43 percent of whites in Austin were born outside of Texas, compared to 35 percent of whites in the state.

The growth of the Latino population has slowed down over the last decade due to major declines in immigration, particularly from Mexico. Between 2010 and 2016, the number of Latinos migrating from abroad to Austin during the prior year dropped by 26 percent. The percentage of Austin Latinos born outside of the U.S. fell from 35 percent in 2010 to 28 percent in 2016.

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However, a major factor explaining the more rapid growth of whites compared to Latinos in the city concerns the major increase in housing costs in Austin. Home values in Austin soared by 66 percent between 2006 and 2016 — the highest increase in the country among cities with at least 500,000 residents, according to a recent study of federal housing data conducted by the American City Business Journal.

The price of rentals also soared in Austin, with the median gross rent rising 32 percent from $939 in 2006 in 2016-adjusted dollars to $1,194 in 2016, according to the American Community Survey.

It is simply becoming more difficult for Latinos to afford to live in Austin.

Though the Latino growth lags behind white growth in Austin, the opposite is the case in nearby Round Rock. While the white population increased by 9 percent between 2006 and 2016 in Round Rock, the Latino population more than doubled from 18,000 in 2006 to 42,000 in 2016. The percentage share of the Latino population in Round Rock rose from 22 percent in 2006 to 35 percent in 2016, while that of the white population dropped from 61 percent to 44 percent. The cost of purchasing a home is about one-fourth lower in Round Rock than in Austin, according to the American Community Survey.

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More limited data from the American Community Survey’s five-year estimates suggest that similar trends are afoot in Buda, Hutto, Leander, Pflugerville and Taylor.

The unique demography of Austin featuring greater white than Latino growth is linked to gentrification. The growth of whites and others with socioeconomic resources has led to the displacement of people of color from areas where they have traditionally been concentrated, primarily in the east part of the city. As Latinos and African-Americans find it difficult to afford to live in Austin, they move to surrounding areas where housing is more affordable. There is clearly a need for progressive policies to deter the uprooting of people with limited resources from areas undergoing or threatened by gentrification. Without such measures, it will become even more difficult for Latinos and African-Americans to live in Austin.

Sáenz is dean of the College of Public Policy at the University of Texas-San Antonio.

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