Maps: Where is Austin gentrifying?

I’m still digging through the UT gentrification study that was released last week. As I wrote before, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the overarching conclusions (poor people are more likely to be displaced, whuda thunk it??) but some of the data collected and case studies are useful.

And, of course, I’m always a fan of a quality heat map:

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The darker the red, the more vulnerable that census tract is to displacement. Vulnerability is based on the frequency of households with one or more of these five risk factors: low-income, renters, minority, non-college educated, children in poverty. In an email to UT Professor Jake Wegmann, who created the maps, I noted that some of the most heavily gentrified areas in the city are no longer categorized as vulnerable. He agreed:

“(M)y interpretation is the same as yours–likely a lot of the people who would have appeared in 2000 or 1990 data in Central East as vulnerable simply aren’t there anymore. Whether that’s because they sold houses voluntarily, or their rents rose too much, or were forced to sell their houses because of rising taxes, etc., is impossible to tell–but the data show that areas further east now have a higher proportion of people in the vulnerability category as we defined it for this study.”

That makes sense, but it reinforces my concerns about the city focusing so much on gentrification instead of the overarching goal of providing housing opportunities to low-income people all over town. The problem isn’t that rich people are moving to East Austin, it’s that poor people are being priced out of every part of town. The smaller population of poor people living in heavily-gentrified Central East Austin are probably more vulnerable to displacement than those living in the not-quite-yet gentrified areas further east.

This next map categorizes tracts based on what stage of gentrification they are in. The dark blue = “continued loss,” meaning they began gentrifying long ago and low/middle-income people are continuing to get displaced. In light blue is “late stage” gentrification, the purple is sort of ground zero for ongoing gentrification and the orange and yellow is where yuppies are just beginning to filter in.

It’s funny, you don’t hear much about the gentrification of South Austin. The historically large presence of low-income and working-class people in South Central neighborhoods east of Lamar has largely been overshadowed by the narrative about East Austin.

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I was taken aback by this map.

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The map shows which areas have experienced significant demographic change, but it does not distinguish by the intensity of the change. Almost every tract in the urban core apparently qualifies, along with some super-duper wealthy neighborhoods west of MoPac. I asked Wegmann what that was about:

Regarding West Austin–the demographic change calculation takes no account of what an area was like when the change started. In other words, for that particular map, we’re only measuring change, and the calc isn’t influenced by what the demographics were when it started. To take just one example: the Deep Eddy tract was already white (66% in 2000). Now it’s gotten even slightly whiter (67%)–but that’s more dramatic than it sounds because the metro area as a whole (the five counties) got significantly less white during that period (something like -8%). So effectively an already white and highly educated tract got even more so during that time–enough for it to clear the bar for how we’re defining demographic change.

I also deduced from the study that by “demographic change” they’re actually just referring to increases in whites/college educated/higher income. My guess would be that many tracts outside of the core have experienced significant increases in Latino population, but I don’t think that’s the type of change this map was tracking.



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