Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau released their report of the 15 largest cities in America and three Texas cities occupy spots in the top 10. Houston (#4), San Antonio (#7), and Dallas (#9) all made the list, but the Texas capital lost its position as number 10 to Jacksonville, Florida. With the traffic on I-35 and the crowd at Terry Black’s BBQ, a lag in population growth might have gone unnoticed by the general public. However, there have been signs if you were paying attention.

Most of the growth in Austin over the last few years has occurred outside the city limits. The population has not been replaced by families staying and having children in the city proper, which helps explain the persistent and projected decline in Austin ISD enrollment. Native Austinites are voting with their feet, oftentimes choosing neighboring areas due to the lower cost of living, particularly for housing, according to city demographer Lila Valencia. The City of Austin has realized that something must be done and introduced the HOME initiative to address the growing affordability crisis phase one of which passed late 2023.

On May 17, 2024, the Austin City Council passed HOME phase two, which will, among other things, address local zoning ordinances that have created artificial scarcity in the housing market which has been one of the leading factors keeping homeownership out of the hands of so many Texans.

The HOME initiative has been aimed at peeling away government mandates surrounding housing density, like the number of units that could be built per lot and minimum lot sizes, which would allow for the market to react to the demands of consumers, specifically middle-class earners more accurately. Middle-income earners and the middle-class on the whole have been widely ignored for too long in the housing market. There is taxpayer subsidized housing for those in the lower income brackets and the higher income earners typically only have to worry about deciding between installing a pool or a media room. Revising restrictive zoning ordinances, like a high minimum lot size requirement, solves the problems of missing middle housing and government interference with the free market.

Of course, there were those who stood in opposition and their protestations were unified in the cry of “this will change the character of my neighborhood.” They are right that it will change the character of the neighborhood, but, likely to their surprise, the change will be for the better. Smaller lots that are more affordable will allow for first responders and critical workers to live in the city where they work. Ambulance drivers, radiology technicians, nurses, firefighters, and teachers will not have to commute, in some cases, as far as San Antonio to perform their critical service the city. Also, according to Pew Research, smaller lots will have a reverse effect on gentrification creating more affordable residences for low-income minorities instead of driving them out of the city. Increased housing density will also add more revenue to the city overall by adding more taxpayers per acre.

It has often been said that the millennial generation will be the first American generation not to be better off than their parents. This doesn’t have to be the case. By applying real conservative principles of limited government, the free market, and respect for property rights across the state, younger generations won’t have to rely on the collapse of the financial sector or housing market to realize the American dream.