Austin's Cost of Living

High Housing Prices Threaten Austin's Creative Identity

Austin, TX house
Jessica Lynn Culver/Moment Mobile/Getty Images

With ever-increasing rents and home prices, Austin is at risk of losing the very thing that made it so cool: struggling musicians and other artists. Groups such as HousingWorks Austin are working with the Austin City Council and nonprofit organizations to find ways to address the city’s affordable housing crisis. Low-income musicians and artists are increasingly being forced to move to nearby small towns to find more reasonably priced rental properties.

As of May 2017, the average market value for homes was $380,000 within the Austin city limits and $310,000 in the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area, reported Austin HomeSearch. Prices increased 8.6 percent in Austin and 8 percent in Austin-Round Rock over a year earlier. This marked the eighth consecutive year of positive movement in the housing market and Austin's economy as a whole. Thousands of apartments and condominiums are under construction in Austin. The sheer number of high-rise projects under construction all over town would seem to indicate that the saturation point will be reached soon.

But for now, prices are still going up.

Apartments downtown, a highly desirable location, rented for an average of $2,168 in January 2017, reports the website Rent Cafe, with the average rent city-wide for a two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot apartment $1,364. 

Food

Aside from high housing prices, living in Austin is relatively affordable. According to Sperling’s Best Places, grocery costs in Austin are slightly below the national average, with a rating of 89.1 against the U.S. average of 100, meaning it is about 11 percent lower than the national average on groceries, as of July 2017.

Taxes

The sales tax rate in Austin is 8.25 percent. There are no income taxes in Texas. Schools are largely funded through property taxes, which rise along with home prices.

Transportation

Like all of Texas, Austin remains a car-obsessed city, and it has traffic to show for it. The Capital Metro bus system operates throughout most of the city. If you live and work on the bus line, it is possible to commute by bus. However, the bus system offers only a few buses late at night, so it’s generally not a viable way to get to and from the downtown entertainment district on weekends. You'll shell out a few bills if you opt for a taxi, depending on distance traveled. As an example, the trip from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to downtown Austin was about $37 as of July 2017.

Uber and Lyft have ceased operations in Austin, so choices without a car are limited.

The Scourge of Toll Roads

Though Austin is a politically liberal town, it sits in the middle of a conservative state in which lawmakers have a tendency to seek solutions to public problems from private companies. Toll roads in and around Austin are one of the most visible and vexing examples of this trend. If you’re heading east out of town toward Houston, you’re faced with two options: meander onto the frontage road and stop-and-start your way to the edge of town for about 20 minutes, or zip through on a toll road in about five minutes.

On the one hand, the toll road is convenient since you don’t have to stop at a toll booth or have a tag. The automated system takes a photo of your license plate and bills you by mail. The cost is only about $2 per trip, but it can add up quickly if you need travel in that direction on a regular basis. 

Entertainment

Free music is still available around Austin, but it’s harder to find than it used to be. Expect a small cover charge at venues such as the Continental Club or the Elephant Room. Austin is also home to a burgeoning comedy scene. Several clubs offer free shows or low-cost open mic nights, mostly on weekdays. Restaurants run the gamut: You can get great and cheap tacos at places like Torchy's or drop a bundle at upscale steak spots, high-brow barbecue places, and ​fancy Mexican restaurants.

CodeNext and the Future of Austin Development

As home prices continue to skyrocket and people are increasingly forced to move to the distant suburbs to find affordable housing, a massive reworking of Austin’s building codes, known as CodeNext, promised to deliver some relief. In the course of about five years of debating the nitty-gritty details of CodeNext, Austin City Council meetings routinely lasted until after 1 a.m. Austin officials had tried to address everyone’s concerns, from the people looking for affordable apartments to those trying to preserve quite neighborhoods.

The idea behind CodeNext was to increase population density in certain areas while ensuring that most changes would occur incrementally and not cause major disruptions in quiet neighborhoods. Just as the policy was about to be finalized in spring 2018, there was a movement launched to try get the new code on the November ballot. After more marathon meeting, the Austin mayor and city council decided to scrap CodeNext altogether in August 2018 and go back to the drawing board.