Youth Beat

Being young in Austin: It's a terrible place to live, it's a wonderful place to live

Being young in Austin: It's a terrible place, it's a wonderful place

Austin skyline lake
Is Austin affordable for Millennials? Photo by Katie Friel

If Austin ever decide to get a new city-wide slogan, we suggest it go with, "Different day, different list." This week, we continued our reign with appearances on sushi restaurants, holiday light displays and luxury condo sales (and that was just in the past five days). As if dominating every listicle and op-ed isn't enough, we're now at the stage where Austin is just cancelling itself out and no one can agree on anything.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post published an article entited, "Millennials can afford to become homeowners — just not where many of them live." The piece, which was based on data from Trulia, argued that many Millennials (those born between 1981–1996), are living in cities where a paycheck doesn't equate to owning property. Austin was the No. 6 least affordable city to buy in, beating Honolulu, San Jose and even New York City. (Our hearts started palpitating during that last sentence, too.)

 Here in Austin, home prices have outpaced salaries, leading to gross inaffordability among younger workers.

 Trulia's formula for determing affordability is this: All monthly expenses — including insurance and mortgage payments — must be less that one-third of the homeowner's income. Here in Austin, home prices have outpaced salaries, leading to gross inaffordability among younger workers.

"That means that if they do want to buy a home eventually ... many Millennials will probably have to sacrifice the cities that attracted them when they were young," writes the Post. If young Austinites want to purchase a home, they should consider moving to Ohio. (It's true. Akron and Dayton took the top two spots for affordability and Rochester, New York came in at No. 3.)

This was upsetting news and everything looked terrible until another article was published this week, this one called, "The 35 best places to live in the U.S. if you're under 35." Guess who came in at No. 5? You guessed it: Austin, Texas. 

Analyzing the 100 most populous cities in the U.S., this annual study from Vocativ looks at livability factors including "salary and employment rates, and the cost of rent and utilities, as well as everyday concerns like public transportation, weather and crime." Put that all together and — boom — Austin's one of the best cities in the U.S. for young adults. 

"It lands second on our list in terms of jobs with a nice mix of well-paying occupations in fields like government and a hot high-tech sector, as well as low unemployment and job growth," says the article. "But good weather, a great bike-share system, cheap gas and affordable housing make Austin appealing even if you don't care about ribs and rock bands." See what we mean? All sorts of contradictions. 

And we can't forget this recent article by the Houston Chronicle that has been making the rounds. Part book review, part cultural commentary, part architectural analysis, the article discusses a novel by a UT professor called My Beautiful City Austin. Though the piece attempts to make a really interesting point — that Austin doesn't really want to be a city — it gets lost in the mismatched comparisons to Houston and that old, tired trope of "Austin sucks." It's as if the author never stopped to think that the reason Austin isn't like Houston is because we don't want to be. 

Ultimately, there is truth in all the articles. We know this city is a great place to live; that's why we live here. And, yes, there is a permeating sense of nostalgia that causes us to dramatically reflect on how things used to be. But those things are pure fluff when it comes to the very real issues of housing and affordability. Without civic engagement, without a new mayoral staff and the new 10-1 city council working to solve these issues, we're all going to have to move to Ohio. 

While there is little chance of listicles ending, or Austin ever being like Houston, there is hope that the city can implement real change on the issue of affordability. And then we can go back to just dominating best restaurant lists and riding bicycles while smoking our corncob pipes.