Austin in transit: How Austin’s rapid growth may be at the expense of long term residents


Two houses built in different decades stand side by side on Holly Street in east Austin. Photo by Lily DiFrank

In 2016, Austin is a mere 40,000 people below the 1 million population mark, and it’s starting to show. From traffic, to schools, to businesses, Austin is changing. Over the next school year our investigative team will show where, when, and how Austin has developed over the past ten years, and predicted developments of the future, specifically in areas experiencing high amounts of gentrification. We will bring the perspectives of new and old Austinites, customers and business owners, developers,homeowners, bureaucrats, and the public,  to offer a full view of those living in Austin and those pushing its growth.

In Austin, the word gentrification has been increasingly used for the past decade, especially in reference to East Austin. Gentrification occurs when the demographic of an area changes from low income families to wealthier citizens as well as the replacement of small locally owned businesses with large companies and housing developments. As a more affluent class moves into an area originally populated by poorer residents, the average property taxes rise for residents in the area as the affluent class builds new houses or remodels old houses that are worth more than the surrounding neighborhood homes. Eventually, the heightened income taxes become too expensive for many poor residents to afford leading to them moving to suburbs of the urban area they originally lived in, or moving or different areas completely. Meanwhile gentrification continues in the area with housing developments and new businesses replacing established ones often to meet the need of the new affluent demographic of the area.

Many East Austinites are paying a high price as the area attracts big businesses and new housing developments, not only in property tax, but also in the diminishing number of public resources established in the area to meet the needs of low income families. In the eyes of many residents, gentrification in the community is forcing them out of their home, rather than providing socio-economic benefits. Opponents to gentrification have pointed out East Austin development has an extension of the racial segregation in Austin’s history, and call for more legal protection for long term residents of East Austin as the area’s property taxes rise.

Some would argue that gentrification is good for Austin due to the economy boost. New job opportunities are arising with new local businesses being constructed and employed. The rising property values are also known to help the owners of houses. Another common benefit seen is that there is often a decline in crime in gentrified neighborhoods. These benefits combined show the pros of gentrification, and how beneficial it truly can be in Austin.

Gentrification is not unique to Austin, it is a vital part of the growth of cities. However it is unique for Austinites who are experiencing, witnessing, and causing gentrification for the first time. Which is why this investigative series is taking place, to look in depth at a major change that is happening in our own city, that affects our own lives, and may be history in the making.