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- Imani Tatum is leaving Austin after living there for the past three years.
- Tatum is moving after her rent jumped and she began to feel like a stranger in her neighborhood.
- She’s a part of a growing group of Austinites getting pushed out by gentrification.
Imani Tatum, a 24-year old Black woman, moved to Austin for work in 2020 after a lengthy stint of traveling the United States in her van. In 2021, she decided to open her own tattoo studio, Nana’s Prayers, in Central East Austin, which is recognized as the only Black cultural district in the state of Texas.
Tatum chose the area for its affordability, as well as its sense of community.
“I wanted to create a place where specifically marginalized people could be tattooed, while being safe and enjoying themselves,” Tatum told Insider. “It was a pocket of town where I could see representation.”
But in just a few years after moving to the neighborhood and opening her business, the affordability and embracing environment she sought were disappearing — the rent on Tatum’s home increased $300 to $1,800, many of her neighbors moved, and several local businesses began to struggle, she said.
By February of 2023, cookie-cutter apartment buildings were popping up, the product of developers expanding from neighborhoods already havens for the techies that have descended in the city in recent years. Tatum said she’s done: she’s closing Nana’s Prayers, packing her bags and heading to a new city in May.
She is a part of a growing group of Austinites who are fleeing the city due to gentrification — the cultural and economic transformation of a neighborhood due to higher housing costs. It’s a problem that escalated during the pandemic as an influx of people from other states has resulted in soaring home prices and rents in the city. The moves would have a crowding-out effect on the city’s Black residents, who by 2022 made up just 7.7% of the population, down from 9.8% in 2000, according to statistical data from the US Census Bureau. In the 19th century, they made up 37%, KUT Austin reported.
Courtesy of Imani Tatum
“My neighbors started dropping like flies and so many homes were getting sold and demoed.” Tatum said. “It felt like these big developers were coming in buying the block, demoing everything, and putting up houses that all look the same.”
Transplants move in, locals move out
The homebuying frenzy that swept Austin during the pandemic is easing as higher mortgage rates cool demand. But affordable housing remains scarce in the city, and that’s driving out many minority residents, like Tatum.
It all comes down to Austin’s booming tech industry. Titans like Apple, Google, Oracle, and Tesla have all opened new satellite offices or global headquarters in the area, bringing thousands of tech employees with them. Their presence — as well as their larger income brackets — have led to higher housing costs.
While price growth has slowed in Austin, the city’s median home price still sits at a staggering $525,000, $140,000 above the US median sale price, according to real estate brokerage Redfin. That housing is largely out of reach for many native Austinites, especially those earning the area’s median household income of $86,530 — far below the median tech-worker salary of $104,566.
‘The soul of the city has changed’
Nora Linares-Moeller, the executive director of nonprofit housing organization Housing Works, told Insider that Austin’s lack of affordable housing options has been especially damaging for the city’s minority neighborhoods.
“Even though the housing market has slowed down, we are definitely feeling it in our East Austin area — it tends to be where there’s people of color located traditionally and culturally,” Linares-Moeller said. That’s exacerbating the gentrification that was underway even before the pandemic, she said.
To prevent further gentrification, she said Austin’s lawmakers will need to step in to ease displacement in the city, and increase the city’s supply of affordable housing.
But for Austinites like Tatum, these measures may come too late.
“I totally want to be here, but I just don’t see myself doing it anymore,” Tatum said. “The soul of the city has changed quite a bit. I lost a bunch of friends due to gentrification, they are relocating to areas like Atlanta or Houston.”
Do you have a similar story you’d like to share with Insider? Get in touch with reporter Alcynna Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.