How Austin’s real estate market helped build the music scene and how it could destroy it
Asleep at the Wheel conductor Ray Benson moved to Austin in the early 1970s at the behest of Willie Nelson. But there was another reason he moved here.
“Well the rent was cheap and the pot was cheap, you know?” ” he said.
At the time, he and his roommates lived in South First, splitting the $ 250 rent into quarters. This cheap rent has enabled musicians and people in the industry to live quality lives in Austin.
It’s pretty common, says Michael Seman, assistant professor of arts management at Colorado State University.
“Inexpensive housing is a huge engine of stages and ecosystems and the creative economy at large,” he says.
Historically, the folks in Austin’s music ecosystem haven’t made a lot of money.
“What I think surprised a lot of people when the [2015 Austin Music] Census emerged that 20% of… musicians are below the poverty line; about 30% more are hovering just above it, ”says Nikki Rowling, who conducted the study.
Austin’s music industry therefore had to depend on affordable housing to thrive. But, says Rowling, musicians’ incomes “have by no means kept up with the times, inflation or affordability issues.”
Musicians have been shut out of the Austin real estate market for quite some time now, and some musicians, like Robert Craft, saw the signs pretty early on.
“I think in 2009, that’s when I kind of realized that I probably had to leave Austin if I wasn’t going to change careers,” he says. “If I wanted to continue doing music, theater and voice and also own a house, Austin was not going to work for me.”
He bought a house from Paige, just outside Bastrop, in 2011.
But housing in Austin is much more expensive than in 2009. Back then, the average home cost around $ 187,000. Now, the median home price is $ 500,000, and much of that increase occurred during the pandemic.
“In the first six months of 2021, we have seen the median selling price increase of more than $ 100,000“says KUT reporter Audrey McGlinchy, who covers housing.
Rental prices have also been affected.
“[In] In November 2020, people were paying around $ 1,200 in rent, and then things took a turn, ”she says. “Slowly falling rents started to skyrocket. In about six months, the average rent price has increased by $ 300. “
In this current real estate market, fewer artists will be able to live in Austin.
“I mean, look, they opened Music Lab and set up a Tesla store,” Craft says. “I don’t know if you need to be hit on the head with a metaphor for what’s going on.”
Musicians like Tribe Mafia’s Chinasa Broxton say they’ll do what they need to do to live and work in Austin. He lives in a house with his team, teammate, videographer and producers.
“I think we’ve compared him pretty well to other people,” he said. “I know a lot of people struggle really, really badly. And I feel like right now we’re fortunate to have roommates who do what we want to do, and we’re going towards one goal when it comes to making music.
The question remains: how does Austin maintain its musical ecosystem as we know it in today’s real estate market?
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