Are people still moving to Austin during the pandemic?

Austin
A view of downtown Austin from the 34th floor of the 360 Condominiums (Courtesy Corey Smith)

A view of downtown Austin from the 34th floor of the 360 Condominiums (Courtesy Corey Smith)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s no secret the City of Austin is one of the fastest-growing places in America.

Austin Business Journal reports Austin has been the fastest-growing major city in the country for nine straight years, from 2010 to 2019.

And in July, a milestone was reached — the City of Austin estimated its population had hit 1 million. It’s the 11th city in the country to do so.

But has the COVID-19 pandemic had an effect on people moving to Austin? The City of Austin said about one third of its population growth comes from births minus deaths, or natural increase, but the other two-thirds are from migration.

Austin’s Planning and Zoning Department said while it’s tough to tell without hard data, there’s been steady growth in the city during the pandemic.

Because the 2020 Census is still underway, there aren’t numbers from this year to analyze, but the department said one indicator of population growth is housing demand.

Austin Board of Realtors President Romeo Manzanilla said the housing market is on the rise now, after activity was slowed in the beginning of the pandemic.

“We saw that the March numbers decreased, and in April there was very little activity, because a lot of people just didn’t know what they could and couldn’t do,” Manzanilla explained.

In May alone, an ABor report said residential sales in the City of Austin decreased 36.6% from May 2019, due to a low inventory and people feeling reluctant to list their homes during an uncertain time.

But the story changed for June and July.

“Especially the last two months, the June and July numbers are really indicative of a really strong housing market that we’re seeing here in Austin,” Manzanilla said. “So it still means that people are still moving to Austin, still looking for places to live.”

In June and July, the housing market for the City of Austin exceeded last year’s numbers.

According to ABoR, in July, there was a 21.4% increase in home sales compared to July 2019 in Austin. That’s about 1,470 home sales, which generated more than $793 million in sales dollar volume. The report said that’s more than a 40% increase from last year. 

And it’s not just the City of Austin that’s seeing a healthy housing market. 

Across a five-county area, which includes Travis, Williamson, Hays, Caldwell and Bastrop counties, the growth is similar. An ABoR report said the area has seen a 21.5% jump in home sales compared to July 2019. That is about 4,537 home sales. 

Manzanilla said the increase in housing demand is in large part due to the jobs that tech companies and industries settling down in Austin have to offer. Just this year, Tesla announced its southeast Austin gigafactory and new jobs are already posted on its website.

Another trend he’s seeing — people looking for more space in the suburbs.

“So as more and more people are working from home and teaching their kids at home, finding that they need that additional space, not just to live but to work and teach their children,” Manzanilla explained.

He said 2020 was on track to be a “breakthrough” year for housing sales before the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens now. 

“Who knows what it’s going to be like this year, because, again, there’s that increased demand, there’s that pent-up demand as well, and then that’s also being fueled by incredibly low interest rates,” Manzanilla said.

Across the country

While a new tech job might be the reason some are moving to Austin, one survey suggests some Americans had to relocate because of the pandemic.

According to a Pew Research Center survey done in June, about 22% of adults say they either changed residence due to the pandemic or know someone who did. Of those people, 3% say they moved permanently or temporarily, and 6% say someone moved into their home because of the pandemic.

The survey said a few reasons why some respondents moved were to reduce the risk of getting COVID-19, because their university or college campus closed or to be with family.

Job loss, finances or money-related items were other reasons people said they moved, according to the survey.

Nearly 10,000 U.S. adults contributed to the report.

In Texas

The Texas Demographic Center produces population estimates and projections on the state and county level. It also helps to provide resources to cities in the state who may have questions about demographic methodology. 

Dr. Lila Valencia is a senior demographer with the center. She said while they don’t have data for Texas’ population during the pandemic, demographers know the coronavirus will have an effect on all three components of population change: births, deaths and migration. 

“It’s easy to imagine how the pandemic has affected death rates. It’s already responsible for over 180,000 nationally and over 12,000 here in the state of Texas, and so that’s something that we know,” she said. 

Birth rate in Texas is a little more complicated, Valencia said. Demographers think it could be impacted negatively, based on how birth rates were affected by past recessions and times of stress.

Lastly, Valencia expects migration to slow down for Texas, but it’s not yet known to what extent. There are also other factors in play when it comes to people moving. 

“We also have heard that people are choosing to, sort of, weather out the storm of the pandemic in places in the country that are maybe less affected by the pandemic, and so it could be that people are spending time in other states that maybe have lower numbers of cases of COVID, but we don’t have that understanding yet,” she said. 

Texas could gain more people as well, depending on how it is impacted by the recession caused by the pandemic, as well as how it recovers from it. 

“During the Great Recession, Texas was able to not experience as severe of a recession and also overcame the recession much faster, and so we actually saw a boost in migration from people moving to Texas because of that,” she explained. 

Unlike Austin, the state of Texas receives half it’s population growth from natural increase and the other half from migration, according to Valencia.

She said state population data for Texas will be available as early as December of this year, but more in-depth numbers for counties and cities will be released in spring 2021.

Making sure everyone counts

As people migrate to Austin, officials want to remind the population — new and old — of the importance of the 2020 Census.

Valencia said time is running out for the Census, after the deadline was moved up to Sept. 30. It’s a full month shorter than expected.

As of last week, about 60% of Texas’ housing units have self-responded to the Census. That’s about 7.3 million households, according to Valencia. 

Additionally, the census has workers knocking on doors, and they have managed to count another 11% to 14% of households. 

That brings the total enumeration so far to 72.8% for the state, Valencia said, but Texas is falling behind the rest of the country. 

“So that leaves us right under 28% of the population in Texas that is yet to be enumerated,” she said. “That is a significant number; it’s more housing units than any other state has yet to enumerate, and so we have concerns.” 

The Census is important because it determines the number of representatives Texas gets at the nation’s capital and also the number of electoral college votes, Valencia said. The numbers are also vital to redistricting legislative, county and school district lines, and also to funding. 

“It also guides over 1.5 trillion federal dollars for programs for hospitals and schools, transportation and moments like we have right now, with the pandemic for emergency preparedness,” Valencia explained.

There’s also concern for hard-to-count communities. Valencia said about 5 million people are living in hard-to-count neighborhoods in Texas. These tend to be communities of color, particularly Hispanic households, areas with a high rate of poverty and rural locations. 

Valencia said even though the Census is knocking on doors now, there is still time to self-respond, and the most accurate data comes from self-responses.

You can visit the Census website to fill out a form, call 844-330-2020 or mail a form back. Mailed forms will be counted if they are postmarked by Sept. 30 and arrive at the Census Bureau by Oct. 7, according to Valencia. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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