State of the City

Affordability and diversity are Austin’s ‘next biggest challenge,’ mayor says

Affordability, diversity are Austin’s next big challenge, mayor says

Downtown Austin skyline
We need to do more to improve the disparity in our city, the mayor says. Photo by Gino Barasa, Visit Austin/Facebook

As Austin copes with COVID-19, homelessness, policing, and other in-the-moment concerns, affordability and diversity represent the city’s “next biggest challenge,” Mayor Steve Adler says.

“Austin is a magical place. This is why we need to fight so hard to hold onto what makes us special,” Adler said Monday, August 30 in written remarks prepared for his annual State of the City speech. “This requires us to do better to mitigate the impact that unaffordability is having on our ability to help people to continue to live here and preserve the diversity that is the fabric of our city. These issues are our next biggest challenge.”

On the affordability front, the issue grabbing the most attention is the cost of housing in Austin. From July 2020 to July 2021, the median home price in the city climbed 37.6 percent to $574,975, the Austin Board of Realtors says.

The affordability matter is intertwined with worries about maintaining diversity in Austin, as the rising cost of housing has driven some Black and Hispanic residents out of the city and into less expensive suburbs.

“Since the late 1990s, Austin has seen a dramatic rise in housing costs, shifting the city from among the most affordable in the country to one where a growing share of residents can no longer afford to live,” according to a University of Texas study released in 2018. “As in many cities around the country, there has been an inversion of previous demographic trends as affluent residents increasingly move into central neighborhoods and low-income residents are pushed to the outskirts or out of the city altogether.”

In a fact sheet accompanying a copy of Adler’s speech, the mayor’s office notes the cost of renting a home is “much cheaper” than it is in comparable cities. Data cited by the mayor’s office shows Austin’s average monthly rent is $1,539, compared with $1,763 in Denver and $2,034 in Seattle.

The same fact sheet points out that the typical monthly budget for groceries adds up to $1,157 in Austin, compared with $1,254 in Denver and $1,561 in Seattle.

Nonetheless, Austin remains the priciest place among major cities in Texas. According to BestPlaces.net, the cost of living in Austin is 23 percent higher than in Fort Worth, 26 percent higher than in Houston, 28 percent higher than in Dallas, and 44 percent higher than in San Antonio.

Whatever the cost-of-living situation is here, Adler remains bullish on the city he has led since 2015.

“By almost all traditional measures of success, Austin is perhaps the strongest major city in the country. This is no small feat. It means that, for most, there is a great opportunity and an exceptional quality of life,” Adler said.

“This positions our city to do more than anyone else to focus on and improve the disparities that we and every other major city face,” he added. “In fact, our success makes that our duty and responsibility. And we are a city that is stepping up to that challenge.”

Adler acknowledged Austin confronts some “very real challenges.”

Yet, he said, the “state of our city is strong, and our future is boundless. Through my work and interactions with mayors nationally and even globally, I can attest that every mayor wants to serve a city like Austin.”