Net gain for Hays County shows majority of growth is from the Lone Star State

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When it comes to migration of residents into Hays County, the majority of newcomers are not spending much time in a moving truck.

The highest numbers, according to statistics from the Internal Revenue Service, are from Travis, Bexar and Williamson counties. Those counties include Austin, San Antonio and Round Rock.

“The growth historically has been much stronger north and west of Austin,” said newly named Austin Board of Realtors Secretary/Treasurer Kevin Scanlan, who is broker and owner of All City Real Estate. “Round Rock went from a bedroom community to an independent city, and the growth just keeps going north until you are far enough out, it’s no longer Austin.”

Growth to the south shows in the numbers. Comal County, just to the south of Hays, is the second-fastest growing county in the United States, according to data recently released from the U.S. Census Bureau. Hays County is No. 4 in the country.

Hays County saw an inflow of 17,937 new residents in 2016, the last full year of released statistics. The cities of San Marcos, Buda and Kyle felt the growth, officials say, as Hays County has grown from a population of 157,104 to 214,485 in seven years. From 2016-17, Hays County grew from 204,365 to 214,485, a 5 percent year-to-year change.

With that growth comes a new set of challenges.

“Our current population will roll over 50,000 in 2019 with an ultimate build-out projection of over 200,000,” Kyle City Manager Scott Sellers said. “Our needs as a community have shifted from housing to quality jobs.”

A Gain for Hays County

More than 7,400 new residents to Hays County came from Travis County in 2016, IRS figures show, more than half of the 14,526 who moved to Hays County from another Texas city. Bexar County is next with 671, followed by Williamson County’s 644 and Caldwell County with 663.

Harris County and Houston lost 599 residents to Hays County, while Dallas and Dallas County lost 186. Other notable spots were 131 new residents from San Diego County, 100 from Los Angeles County, 55 from Cook County and Chicago, and 55 from other countries.

For the 12,628 residents who left Hays County in 2016, the majority, 10,184, stayed in Texas. The IRS figures showed 2,385 moved to other states and 59 left the United States. The net gain for Hays County was 5,309 for the year.

Housing Market is Strong

Numbers from the Austin Board of Realtors show a steady increase in the purchase prices for houses in all three cities. Scanlan said while values are rising the closing price of houses in San Marcos, Buda and Kyle is 97.4 percent of the listed price on average, a high number that does not seem to be slowing, Scanlan said.

“Driving the migration is affordability, and that is becoming an issue for Greater Austin,” he said. “You can get the same house south of town that you get north of Austin for $100,000 less. It’s affordable still south of town.

Listings in all price ranges have spent less time on the market each year since 2011, according to ABoR..

One issue, Scanlan said, is that development is working to keep up with demand for housing in the area.

“You can still buy a house for under $250,000 here, but prices are growing,” he said. “The median house in this market increased 10.7 percent from May [2017] to May [2018]. You get more house, good.”

Needs Identified

San Marcos, Buda and Kyle, along the quick-growing stretch of I-35 between Austin and San Antonio, have similar and unique housing issues due to the growth.

“Our data shows we have a mix of 70 percent renters and 30 percent homeowners,” San Marcos City Manager Bert Lumbrera said. “Our goal would be to change that by focusing on single-family homeownership options.”

To do that, Lumbreras said, the city will look to lessen the overall cost of homeownership “by removing entirely or the majority of the costs associated with the real estate portion,” he said. “Another strategy will be to create individual savings accounts with our banking partners and community to match funds as part of a new homebuyer assistance program. Just as importantly, we plan to partner with the development community to encourage more affordable workforce units through our newly adopted Code SMTX.”

The city of San Marcos recently revamped its codes to streamline the process of growth for developers and the city.

Just to the south of Austin, Buda is taking the teamwork approach to its challenges.

“On the residential side, we are watching fascinating general disruptions as baby boomers enter retirement years with different lifestyle preferences than the generation before them as they seek to downsize, maintain independence and activity, and tether themselves to unique communities with accessible services,” said Chance Sparks, Buda assistant city manager and planning director. “Younger generations, like millennials, are similarly entering the real estate market with different expectations and desire for experiences.”

Sparks said Buda has addressed its infrastructure needs to be poised for growth.

“Transportation remains a critical need, and perhaps the most complex need as it involves a coordinated regional effort,” Sparks said. “Part of this falls into economic development—attracting employers that meet the skills and knowledge of Buda residents can turn the long commute into a choice rather than a requirement.”

In Kyle, the city is working to develop all housing types, according to Sellers. At the same time, he said his city will focus on bringing more jobs and services for residents.

“We recently announced almost 1 million square feet of manufacturing and industrial space to create these needed jobs in Kyle,” Sellers said. “Our retail sector continues to grow. There is real interest from our residents to bring jobs from Austin to Kyle. We are also developing many quality of life initiatives like signature events, recreational amenities, trails and medical services.”

Predicting the Future

Meeting the housing needs and balancing a community with jobs and retail development will be a long-term project, Scanlan said. Even more of a challenge if Amazon.com Inc. chooses Austin for its second headquarters, or HQ2.

“We have a very unique bid for HQ2,” Scanlan said of the regional effort to draw the project that would bring $5 billion in capital expenditure and 50,000 jobs. “Austin is very business friendly and there are a lot of major businesses coming here. That would be huge for the economy and market.”

Scanlan said in his 20 years of selling real estate, the Austin area has been “a little insulated” from dips in the economy.

“The quality of life here is strong and the influx of people into Austin is because of our very broad economic base,” he said. “We have top universities, a high-tech sector and more jobs are coming here every day. We are not overpriced. I think we can have a healthy growth market for the next five to 10 years here, especially if Amazon chooses Austin.”

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Joe Warner
Joe Warner is managing editor of the nine Austin-Central Texas editions of Community Impact Newspaper. He previously served as senior editor of the flagship Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto newspaper. He came to Central Texas from Metro Detroit, where he was editor and general manager of several daily and weekly publications. He is the former president of the Michigan Press Association and was on the MPA board of directors for nine years.
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