As Central Texas grows, officials say the concern for affordability in the region rises.
Victor Garza, economic development manager for the city of New Braunfels, says from Georgetown to San Antonio, all communities along the I-35 corridor are feeling the economic impacts of growth.
Specifically in New Braunfels, Garza said housing is where residents are hit the hardest. Although the median home price in New Braunfels rose 9.4 percent from Jan. 2017-18 according to the Texas REALTOR® Data Relevance Project, Garza said New Braunfels is still an affordable place to live over all.
“Big picture, comparatively speaking, we’re still an affordable area in most aspects,” Garza said.
Keeping Housing Costs Down
The city of New Braunfels’ resident population has grown by 77 percent since 2003, according to the New Braunfels EDC’s 2017 Economic Benchmarks report. With the population influx, market demand for housing is growing, which drives prices up, Garza said.
“A developer isn’t going to sell a house for $180,000 when they can sell it for $220,000,” Garza said.
New Braunfels Mayor Barron Casteel said that although the city does not play a role in establishing property values, there are economic advantages and disadvantages that come with growth.
“The fact that values are going up across the city can be a good thing for existing residents because they have more and more equity and value in their investments and business,” Casteel said.
Although some economic benefits are passed to residents with growth, Casteel stressed that new development should not be the burden of current residents. The city deters the cost of new development from residents by imposing impact fees on developers that require them to pay all or a portion of the cost for providing public services to a new development.
“It’s clearly fair that a new home or new user pay what their impact is as opposed to a retired English teacher in New Braunfels who is living on a state retirement in a home she bought in the 1950s and using the same water quantity that she’s been using for 30 years,” Casteel said.
Stabilizing the supply and demand for housing to help control cost is a challenge that will continue as the region grows.
“I’m not saying we need to build our way out of it,” Garza said. “We have a demand across all sectors of housing markets. From single-family to multifamily, the demand is there in all areas, and we need to keep up with it.”
Softening the blow of rising housing costs for those who fall on the low end of the socio-economic spectrum is another challenge faced in New Braunfels.
According to 2016 U.S. Census Bureau data, 9.5 percent of New Braunfels residents fall below the poverty level, and Casteel said the community has supported several multifamily Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, controlled developments for families and seniors.
NB Housing Partners is a nonprofit that was created by the McKenna Foundation to combat homelessness in New Braunfels. Kandace Tornquist, president of the organization, said ideally housing cost should make up 30 percent or less of a person’s income.
The median household income of New Braunfels in 2017 was $59,721, which fell from $61,618 the year before.
Casteel said the city works with the New Braunfels EDC to bring higher-paying jobs to the community.
“Clearly we are designed not to incentivize any type of business whose main benefit is jobs where the wage is substantially lower than what the median is in this community,” Casteel said.
Additional Affordability Factors
Health care, transportation, and utilities also come into play in New Braunfels’ affordability climate.
According to Brett Mosher, a pastor at Oakwood Baptist Church, there is a significant need in New Braunfels and Comal County for those who do not have health insurance.
Oakwood’s Volunteers in Medicine program provides free dental and medical care to uninsured residents who can not afford private insurance but also do not qualify for government health care assistance.
Transportation costs can also have a significant impact on residents. The New Braunfels EDC reports that 68 percent of employed residents commute outside of the city for work.
Additionally, Casteel said the city will have to acquire a new water supply in the future based on the current growth rate. Like new development, he feels the burden for additional water resources should fall on those who are moving into the area.
According to Garza, the cost of living will be impacted as long as New Braunfels is a place where people want to live.
“We have access to great quality of life; we have great jobs. All the ingredients are there,” he said.