Hays county housing market driving out middle class

As home prices in one of Austin's fastest-growing counties go up, many residents are having a harder time finding affordable options

Freese and Nichols manager of urban planning and design Chance Sparks (Freese, iStock, Google Maps)
Freese and Nichols manager of urban planning and design Chance Sparks (Freese, iStock, Google Maps)

Home price growth in Texas’ Hays County, one of the fastest growing areas near Austin and San Antonio, is threatening to drive out middle-class families.

The median home sales price in Hays County now exceeds $470,000, according to Redfin. That’s a huge jump from 10 years ago, when it was just $180,000, the San Antonio Express News reported. It’s also brought a transformation to the county, from a relatively small, affordable residential area to one of the priciest in the state, even surpassing some larger metropolitan areas.

While housing costs were once a main attraction of Hays County, they are now pushing some middle-class residents to look elsewhere.

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“You have this whole area from the south end of Comal County up to the north end of Hays that kind of has its own gravity now,” said Chance Sparks, a former city planner for Buda, a city in Hays County, who now manages urban planning and design for the engineering firm Freese and Nichols.

“There’s a lot of economic opportunity there, and several other issues are converging, which makes it a very popular place for people to move to,” he said.

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Home prices and rents have been on the rise in Austin and across Texas cities as more people and companies move into the area, driving up demand. Hays County has seen some of the largest population growth in the state over the last decade, as the once small, quaint county now houses over 100,000 people and counting, according to the publication.

The growth has driven up housing costs across the board, with the city of Austin reporting a median home sale price of over $620,000 in April 2022, an increase of 20.8 percent year over year, and Hays County alone has among the highest average rent in Texas for a two-bedroom apartment at $1,451 per month.

All the new development isn’t enough to keep up with demand, said Colin Strother, a political strategist and former Buda planning and zoning board chairman. He explains that as long as the rampant demand keeps up, more developments will keep the average prices high as they’re built for higher-income tenants moving to the city, which is subsequently squeezing out many residents and businesses that could afford to live there before.

The Austin market was recently listed as the No. 1 hot spot for commercial investment in the U.S. for 2022, and there are no signs of that investment cooling off as the year goes on.

“You can’t blame them — commerce is commerce,” said Julie Castro, the assistant district manager for the Half Price Books headquarters in Dallas.

“But when it just gets to a point where rent is so high that you don’t have enough extra money for your employees, you have to cut your losses.”

[San Antonio Express-News] — James Bell