West Coast to Third Coast

How many Californians are moving to Austin? The numbers will surprise you.

How many Californians are moving to Austin? Numbers will surprise you.

Austin aerial view downtown skyline
Californians are moving to Austin in droves. Austin, Texas - Your City Government/Facebook

If you think you’ve been spotting a lot of California license plates on I-35 and MoPac in recent years, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you.

A CultureMap review of data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September shows that from 2010 to 2014, the Austin metro area attracted an estimated 7,317 new residents each year from California’s 26 metro areas. In turn, 4,353 residents of the Austin area relocated each year to the same 26 California metros.

Bottom line: The Austin metro saw an annual net gain of nearly 3,000 metro-dwelling Californians. That’s close to 15,000 California transplants during the entire five-year period — or roughly the same number of people who live in the Austin suburb of Taylor. Put another way, the Austin area gained about eight Californians per day.

Now, if you’re thinking most of those new California arrivals came from Silicon Valley, you’re wrong. The Los Angeles metro area is the top supplier of Austin’s new residents from the Golden State.

Based on Census Bureau data and anecdotal evidence, City of Austin demographer Ryan Robinson says Steiner Ranch, the master-planned community that borders Lake Travis and Lake Austin, is a popular neighborhood for people relocating from LA and other parts of Southern California. “To my eye, the vistas, the rolling hills, and the lake give the Steiner area a look and feel that reminds me of parts of Orange County [California] and beyond,” Robinson says.

Steve Murdock, director of Rice University’s Hobby Center for the Study of Texas and former director of the Census Bureau, says the exchange of residents between the country’s two largest states — California and Texas — is to be expected given the size of their populations and the prominence of both states’ tech sectors.

Robinson says the flood of Californians into Central Texas will continue “as long as we keep creating good jobs and our real estate market continues to be relatively affordable in comparison to these more expensive markets.”

“We love to complain about collapsing housing affordability in Austin,” Robinson says, “but the truth is that we are still affordable compared to where many of our migrants are moving from. This affordability differential is certainly less than it used to be, but appears to be rather durable nonetheless.”

Brandy Guthrie of Sky Realty, 2017 president of the Austin Board of Realtors, confirms that many Californians are drawn to Austin and other parts of Texas because housing generally costs less here. However, that’s not the only reason for the wave of Californians into Texas.

“The California homebuyers I have worked with have relocated to Austin due to job growth, lower-priced housing, or to experience Austin’s high quality of life and culture — similar climates, Austin’s inclusive culture, active art and music scenes, and more,” Guthrie says.

Guthrie says the California-to-Austin influx slowed during the recession but has escalated since then.

“With our strong projected population growth, low unemployment, and diversity in jobs and industries, Austin is expected to remain a popular relocation destination among Californians, as well as homebuyers from around the country,” she says.

Here’s the breakdown for the top five California metros sending new residents to the Austin metro area in 2010-2014:

Los Angeles metro area:

  • Residents who moved per year from L.A. to Austin: 2,551
  • Residents who moved per year from Austin to L.A.: 1,278
  • Austin’s annual net gain from L.A.: 1,273 residents

San Jose metro area (Silicon Valley):

  • Residents who moved per year from Silicon Valley to Austin: 829
  • Residents who moved per year from Austin to Silicon Valley: 461
  • Austin’s annual net gain from Silicon Valley: 368 residents

San Francisco metro area:

  • Residents who moved per year from San Francisco to Austin: 1,299
  • Residents who moved per year from Austin to San Francisco: 555
  • Austin’s annual net gain from San Francisco: 744 residents

Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro area (Inland Empire):

  • Residents who moved per year from Inland Empire to Austin: 686 residents
  • Residents who moved per year from Austin to Inland Empire: 398
  • Austin’s annual net gain from Inland Empire: 288 residents

Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura metro area:

  • Residents moved per year from Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura to Austin: 184
  • Residents who moved per year from Austin to Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura: 0
  • Austin’s annual net gain from Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura: 184 residents