A new survey has found that even as it experienced tremendous population growth in the past decade, Austin, Texas, lost a substantial portion of its black population between 2000 and 2010. There are now 60,760 black residents in Austin, down from 64,259 in 2000—a 5.4% drop during a time in which Austin overall grew 20.4%.
The main reason for black residents leaving Austin, the survey found, was increasingly unaffordable housing: Austin home prices more than doubled between 2000 and 2010. More recently (from 2011 to 2014), the median home price in East Austin’s 78702 zip code, in the heart of the city's historically black neighborhood, tripled from $125,000 to $375,000.
Researchers at the University of Texas' Institute for Policy Research and Analysis talked to 100 African Americans, a majority of whom moved out of Austin between 1999 (the year the 2000 census was taken) and the present, for the survey.
Respondents had relocated outside of Austin’s city limits to nearby cities north and east of Austin proper, though "all of them maintain close ties to family, friends, businesses, and places of worship located within the city of Austin," the report said. Sixty-eight percent of the survey's respondents came from East Austin.
Austin's black population has long been concentrated on the city's east side thanks to state-sanctioned segregation; in 1928, city officials created a “Negro District” where "the majority of African Americans would eventually resettle because it was home to the only public school and other public services accessible to them under the racial rule of Jim Crow," the Institute says.
In the past decade, these neighborhoods became targets of gentrification. In an extensive series on this phenomenon, the Austin-American Statesman found that "economic rifts between Austin’s minority and majority populations have widened as the metro area has grown — a threat not only to its forward-thinking reputation, but to its overall economic potential."Texas Monthly honed in on East Austin as ground zero for this phenomenon:
…Now, as Austin is becoming the city everybody wants to live in (in large part thanks to festivals like SXSW), families that were first forced into the area are now being forced out. East Austin’s central proximity to downtown has made it the destination for richer white newcomers drawn by the city’s never-ending festivals and tech goodies, and Latino and black residents are now finding themselves unable to afford property taxes and forced to move to suburbs outside of Austin.
Here were the reasons the Institute's survey respondents gave for leaving Austin:
"In most cities, you have segregation and gentrification, but they don't often converge on a single community," study co-author Eric Tang told me. "Austin is unique among large and fast-growing cities in this way."
Indeed, Tang and his co-authors have previously found that among cities with populations of 500,000 or more that saw growth greater than 10% between 2000 and 2010, Austin has been the only one to lose black residents on net.
The next most common reason survey respondents listed as their reason for moving was better schools, at 24%. This finding was supported by the City of Austin’s demographer's finding that the 5.4% decline in African American residents between 2000 and 2010 was comprised mostly of people younger than 18.
"One infers from this that African American heads of household based their decision to move out on the needs of their children, specifically on their educational needs," the Institute concluded in their report.
But a disturbing number of people, including one out of five who ended up moving east of Austin, cited racism or an unwelcoming environment among Austinites as a reason for moving.
As a 44-year-old man said:
I feel like no one sees me. They don't value that I'm there. They only notice me when there's a problem. Thousands of Black kids who don't get the same appreciation that a pet gets.
And a 46-year-old woman added:
Austin has never been openly friendly to African-Americans or allowed them to develop a significant economic enclave. Austin has antagonistic atmosphere (sic) to African Americans…for example…The Texas Relays. Austin is unwelcoming, it's a blatant slap in the face.
The Texas Relays are an annual athletic competition that brings out a predominantly black crowd, Tang told me. The event also brings out a heavy police presence, which some in the black community interpret as a suggestion that they are more likely to commit crimes. Businesses along Sixth Street, the main downtown drag where the events take place, shut down instead of staying open, Tang said, a further signal to some black people that they are not welcome.
Tang said Austin's mayor and city council are aware of the problem, and have pledged to allocate funds for more affordable housing, but that such initiatives remain in very early stages.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.