My latest writing about filtering was prompted by a piece last week by KXAN on the new, up-scale West Campus housing coming on line. Robert Maxwell briefly interviewed me. The gist of my remarks was, "Build moar housing!"
Every time I say something like this, particularly about West Campus, I draw objections that all the new housing in West Campus is actually making things worse for students. Or, if not worse for all students, then at least more expensive. Soon, I'm told, students won't even be able to afford to live over there.
I bet West Campus is substantially more affordable than it would have been without all the new, high-priced housing. Unfortunately, the only metric that's ever reported is average rent, which is an awful statistic for neighborhoods experiencing a large amount of new development. The average is skewed by the high-priced new stuff. What we really need is a metric showing us the average year-over-year change in the rents for the existing stock of housing, a Case-Shiller index for rental housing.
We don't have such a metric (that I know of), so we're forced to rely on other measures.
Perhaps the best is simply to look at where college students (or at least college-age students) choose to live. If new development is pricing students out, then the student population should be dropping. But it's not. Students have flooded into West Campus since UNO, as I discussed a couple of years ago:
The initial Census figures confirmed, not surprisingly, that the area added a lot of people and not just a lot of apartments. And although I've heard some complain that the new developments in West Campus are too expensive for students, the Census demographic data confirm that, indeed, these new apartments are being occupied by college kids, or at least college-age kids. Census tract 6.03 (West Campus between MLK and 24th Street) saw its population of 18-24 year olds rise from 4,367 in 2000 to 7,065 in 2010. Census tract 6.04 (West Campus north of 24th Street) saw its population of 18-24 year olds rise from 4,272 to 5,816. Combined, these two tracts housed more than 4,200 more 18-24 year olds in 2010 than 2000, an increase of around 50%.
Interestingly, both tracts actually added more 18-24 year olds than they added in total. As a result, this age group comprises an even larger share of the population today than in 2000: in 2010, 18-24 year olds made up 90.6% of the population of Tract 6.03, up from from 82.8% in 2000. The increase was almost identical for Tract 6.04, an increase from 82.1% to 89,5%. The most reasonable interpretation is that, given a free(r) hand, developers tore down older housing stock that appealed to non-students and replaced it with housing stock that appealed to students.
Where would these students have lived? I've long suspected that the new housing was drawing students who otherwise would have lived in the giant apartment complexes in the East Riverside-Montopolis area of 78741. I speculated that the surge of Hispanics and children into 78741 was mirrored by an exodus of students. The recently-released demographic data, again, confirm this. The Census tracts that roughly comprise the area bordered by Parker Lane, East Riverside, Oltorf and Montopolis (23.13, 23.14, 23.15 and 23.16) all saw a sharp drop in college-age residents.
That drop, by the way, can not be explained by the demolition of apartment complexes on the east side. Three of those four Census tracts saw a healthy increase in overall population. The college-age population declined both as a percentage of the total and in absolute terms.
The latest West Campus developments will surely continue this trend. 2400 Nueces was developed by a college-housing specialist, is marketed specifically to college students, and is, according to the developer, 99% leased. Callaway House, if anything, is even more narrowly focused on college students, because it even offers a choice of meal plans. Perhaps 21 Pearl is mainly drawing non-students, but it, too, markets itself as a student community.
If you want to claim that, despite this actual historical, factual record, the new development will eventually run college students out of West Campus, you need some sort of theory. You need a theory that can explain how the first 20 (or however many) new developments have drawn students in but it will be the 21st that starts pushing them out. I wait with bated breath.
None of this is to belittle claims that West Campus is extremely expensive or that the high cost of housing is a real hardship for UT students. It's true. I totally get that. But that's a problem with Austin's rental market overall. Everything within a few miles of UT is expensive. Austin sucks for all renters right now, not just UT students.
In fact, if you are a renter in Austin right now, you should be thankful for all that West Campus development even if you are not a student. Imagine what rents would be outside West Campus if there were an additional 4,000 students competing for the limited supply of apartments in the central core.