More than 1 in 3 people who bought homes in some of East Austin's oldest neighborhoods in 1992 or earlier moved out of those homes after 2002, and close to 1 in 3 of remaining homeowners are delinquent on their property taxes, according to a new study calling for community solutions to help people stay in their homes.
Released Tuesday by two nonprofit groups, the study concludes that rising property taxes in those East Austin neighborhoods have squeezed out many low- to moderate-income families. Though the report calls the turnover of homeowners alarming, it says that hundreds more longtime residents still reside in East Austin and that helping families stay in those homes is better than traditional approaches of building new affordable housing.
"This (report) gets to our whole concept of the American dream, and what does that mean, and what should we expect?" Raul Alvarez, one of the report's authors, said, adding: "In this day and age, we need to be able to purchase our home and be able to live there all of our lives and die there if you choose. That dream has changed dramatically for some of these eastside residents."
A former Austin City Council member, Alvarez is president of the East Austin Conservancy, which issued the report with People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources (PODER).
"We talk about sustainability in Austin. I think part of the sustainability is keeping people in the neighborhood," Susana Almanza with PODER said. "What we don't want Austin to become is an urban core only for the rich."
The report, which studied Chestnut, East Cesar Chavez, Holly and parts of Rosewood neighborhoods, does not address how homeownership turnover and tax delinquencies in those neighborhoods compare with other areas of the city, nor where those longtime homeowners moved.
It is based on findings gleaned from Travis Central Appraisal District records.
Karen Paup, a housing advocate who works on affordability issues, called the turnover rates in the report striking.
"There's probably not another neighborhood (planning) area in Austin where we would find that 33 percent of the houses ... had that high of a turnover in a 10-year period," said Paup, co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, a nonprofit research and advocacy group.
I don't have a copy of the report and would appreciate someone forwarding it to me. But these turnover figures aren't striking to me.
"We need to be able to purchase our home and be able to live there all of our lives and die there if you choose." Very few people do this. It is not the norm. Most people move several times, even after reaching adulthood. According the American Community Survey's 2010 5-year estimates, 56% of Austinites living in owner-occupied homes in 2010 moved into their homes between 2000 and 2010. Only 18% of Austin's homeowners have lived in their homes since 1990. (Renters are even more mobile: 94% of all renters moved into their homes between 2000 and 2010.)
I haven't done a systematic study of other Austin neighborhoods, but these East Austin neighborhood appear to be more stable than a couple of other old, central Austin neighborhoods for which I already had data. Here's the ACS data for Tracts 9.02 and 10, which roughly match the "study" boundaries above, and Tracts 13.03 (part of Zilker) and 13.05 (Bouldin Creek):
The ACS numbers are just estimates with pretty wide margins of error. Still, they suggest that the two East Austin tracts have at least as many long-time homeowners than either of the two tracts just south of Lady Bird Lake. ACS estimated that 43% of the homeowners in Tract 10 (as of 2010) moved into their homes before 1990. It estimated that 35% of the homeowners in 9.02 moved into their homes before 1990. The comparable stats for Tracts 13.05 and 13.03 are 32% and 22%, respectively.
The City-wide average, again, is only 18%, although this is of course skewed by new construction and not as meaningful as a comparison with neighborhoods of similar age. But no one has done such a comparison. Without it, we can't tell whether East Austin is experiencing an unusual degree of turnover. And without some evidence that East Austin is experiencing an unusual degree of turnover, the advocates haven't shown that property taxes or other economic hardship is driving people out of East Austin.