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Housing affordability in Austin, TX

rpost profile image R Post ・3 min read

The Motivation

I live in a neighborhood of Austin with a lot of renovations and construction happening. I know from personal experience that the city permitting department has an online search - we did renovations, too. I realized that they also have a public API, so I decided to explore whether I could map the active building permits in my area and get a better understanding of how the neighborhood is changing.

The Situation

It turns out that the city's dataset is an amazingly rich source of data! I quickly saw what I was interested in for my own neighbordhood, and realized that there are implications within the region as well. Many sources will tell you that Austin is one of the fastest growing metro regions in the country (1, 2, 3, among others.) One downside of this growth is that housing is becoming less and less affordable as more people come in and increase demand. Many musicians, an important demographic for the "Live Music Capital of the World," are forced to move out of the city proper, along with students of the 5 higher ed institutions, and even many 2-income households cannot afford to stay within the city limits. Life further out has a lower housing cost, but requires more time in traffic, creates more congestion, and takes up time that most of us would rather spend on literally anything else.

The city is aware of the affordability problem and is up-front about where things stand. Two of the key indicators for affordability that we're getting worse at are Median House Value and Median Gross Rent. Both of these are affected by the number of housing units available. If housing costs are going to go down, there needs to be more units available where people want to live. At the base, it's supply and demand - when we don't have enough units, owners and sellers can charge more. When we have plenty, they have to charge less.

The dev connection

"Wait, wait," you say, "Ok, I can see that this is A Thing, but why should I, as a developer, care?"

First, I hope that you care because you don't like to see other humans struggle to earn enough for food and housing.

Second, Austin is a hot location for tech jobs, and our relatively high salaries help push up housing prices. The median household income here, at a little under 66K according to some estimates, is less than many tech salaries. While we can handle the cost of living, we are pulling up the median salary and making it harder for others. I don't think that's bad - I enjoy making a decent salary! I do think that we should be aware of the impact of our field, and that not everyone else can earn similar wages.

Third, we know how to use APIs and for that reason we can do something with the available data. Those of us who can present the numbers and break them down in visualizations can help make sense of the numbers that represent a pretty complicated problem.

The Question

This brings us to a measurable question:

If we compare the number of housing units being built in the city to the number of people moving to the area, how many newcomers can find a place within the city, and how many will be fighting traffic from the surrounding areas?

In other words, do we have a chance to get ahead of this affordability problem any time soon?

The Plan

In order to determine if the ratio of new-people to new-housing favors lower housing costs, we need to determine the expected number of new people moving to the area, and what we can expect for new housing units. The population estimates are fairly straight-forward to find, so I'll work on the housing ones.

Until that's done, feel free to check out the map of active residential permits in Austin, TX as of 8/20/19:!/vizhome/NewUnits/ActivePermitUnits

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