Can Austin handle population growth?

It comes as no surprise to Austinites, the city is crowded. And it's only getting worse. The population is set to double to nearly four million people by 2040. How is Austin going to handle this? KVUE decided to find out. 

AUSTIN - It comes as no surprise to Austinites, the city is crowded. And it's only getting worse. The population is set to double to nearly four million people by 2040. How is Austin going to handle this? KVUE decided to find out. 

THE DEMAND FOR HOUSING

In ten years, the median home price in Austin has skyrocketed, rising from $182,500 in 2006 to $289,990 in 2016. Realtors say this continues to cause a shift in population.

"One thing to look at is the areas outside the metropolitan areas, Buda and Hays in the month of September had incredible growth, nine percent increase in their market, 350 home sales in a month, which is great all the areas surrounding Austin are experiencing tremendous growth," said Remax Associates Group Realtor Julie Downs. 

The problem is that prices are also rising in Hays County. The median price of a home there right now is $253,250, up nearly eight percent in the last month. 

This growth causes an increase in people who are forced to rent houses simply because they cannot afford to buy one.

According to Downs, 47 percent of people currently renting in Austin are doing so because they can't afford to buy a home

Buyers are advised to look for down payment assistance programs and first-time buyer help, and to buy now because prices are only expected to increase.

THE DEMAND FOR HOTELS

The housing market isn't the only thing exploding in Austin. People are traveling here in record numbers, both for work and for play. 

ABIA representatives report passenger travel is continuing to grow year by year.

In the last 12 months, about 12.2 million people traveled through ABIA. The year before that about 11.4 million people traveled through the airport. That's about a seven percent increase in passenger travel in the last year, amounting to 12.2 million people traveling through ABIA.

Many of those people are staying in hotels and the demand for rooms is growing. 

Many people say that Austin is a developer's dream, which is why more and more companies are choosing our city as a prime area to build.

"Developers really see Austin as a great place to come in and invest in products because they know we're doing a very good job in selling that product," Shilpa Baker with the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau said.

Those behind the Austin-based development company New Waterloo agree, saying their two properties, South Congress Hotel and Hotel Ella, have been very successful.

"Our hotels run in the 80 percent occupancy range, which is pretty much the norm for Austin right now and probably about 20 points above average for most hotels in most communities in the U.S.," New Waterloo partner Bart Knaggs said.

So far, 2016 has been a big year for the hospitality industry in Austin. Tourism officials report by the end of this year three new hotels will have opened, adding more than 3,000 rooms.

Over the last decade, demand has increased by about five percent each year and the supply of rooms have kept pace.

The Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau reports the average price for a room in the Austin metro is amounting to about $130 a night.
 
More facts from The Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau available here

THE DEMAND FOR WATER

One of the things people may not consider as homes and hotels continue being built are the resources available to those who inhabit them.

All of Austin's drinking water comes from natural resources, either aquifers or reservoirs. As droughts have shown us in the past, those resources can vanish quickly.

Currently, rainwater replenishes our underground aquifers and brings more water into the Colorado River. That water flows from Northwest Texas down to Austin, where we have a series of dams and reservoirs to collect it. 

Growing population means not only more people but more industry and potentially more agriculture. Development puts a strain on the river. 

The Colorado River Alliance has been working on this problem. They developed a game to teach kids how difficult it might be for us to last until 2040 with a population boom.  

The game puts the player in the shoes of a city planner making decisions as the population grows. Do you store water for the future? Dam a new lake? Or put money into scientific research for new solutions? 

Executive Director of the Colorado River Alliance Brent Lyles says that decisions like watering your lawn less or making sure to turn off the water when you brush your teeth can add up. 

PUTTING IT IN CONTEXT

To put all of this in context, we looked at median home prices for metropolitan areas with populations similar to Austin. 

Austin's population in 2015 was two million. Charlotte, N.C. has a population of  2.4 million and Indianapolis, IA has a population of 1.9 million. But the median home price in Austin exceeds those by quite a bit. 

In the Austin area, the median price of a home is $225,000. In the Charlotte metropolitan area, the median home price is $138,000. In Indianapolis it is $114,450. 

In 2040, Austin's population is expected to double what it is today. Cities in that projected population range include Detroit at 4.3 million, Phoenix at 4.5 million and San Francisco at 4.6 million. A home in the Detroit metro costs $147,000. In Phoenix, a home costs $205,000 and in San Francisco a home costs $700,000.

Like most facts and figures, median prices aren't the only statistics that predict success, other elements certainly factor in. But it leaves us wondering, will we become a San Francisco or a Detroit? Or can we keep the home price more manageable as the city grows?

 

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