Community First! Village

Believe in Goodness

ABoR and MLF members announcing our partnership

This year the Austin Board of Realtors Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of our organization, has begun a 10-year partnership with the Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ master planned development of Community First! Village in northeast Austin, as well as announcing our $1 million pledge to the community — ABoR’s largest donation ever!

As a member of the foundation’s Housing Committee, I was privileged to be on site earlier this month for the press conference announcing the partnership and to take a guided tour of this amazing community.  I was, of course, aware of the development but had never been out in person to actually see it or to meet any of its residents until I took the tour — and wow!!  — it blew my socks off and that is honestly putting it mildly!

So what is Community First! Village, you ask?  The the best explanation is taken directly from their website:

Community First! Village is a 51-acre master planned community that provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for men and women coming out of chronic homelessness. A development of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, this transformative residential program exists to love and serve our neighbors who have been living on the streets, while also empowering the surrounding community into a lifestyle of service with the homeless.

Mi casa es su casa

(To get a real sense of this community, the genuine good it does and its vision for mitigating homelessness long-term, this video tells the story better than I ever could.  I really want to encourage everyone to take 5 minutes to watch it — it’s beautifully done and, truly, incredibly inspiring.)

The 3-D printed Welcome Center

Our tour started off at what will become the village’s Welcome Center, a 500 square foot 3D-printed structure (Yep, 3D-printed: you read that right — click the link to see shots of its amazing interior!) which is the first of a series of 3D-printed structures planned for the community.  We got to see the printer itself (it was wildly impressive, though for proprietary technology reasons we were not allowed to take pictures of it), as well as three fully-printed micro-homes for residents that were in the midst of getting their finishing touches taken care of.

Tiny house at Community First! Village

In addition to the 3-D printed homes, other dwelling options at the village include tiny homes, RVs and canvas-sided cottages.  The village is beautifully laid out, with much attention paid to making it aesthetically pleasing as well as functional, making use of a lot of native plants for landscaping, wide stone and gravel walking paths, and plenty of communal areas for recreation and socializing, which is part of what helps foster a real sense of community.  There are 24/7-available commercial-style community kitchens for residents who choose dwellings that don’t come with a full kitchen of their own, as well as clean and safe community shower areas for the use of residents who prefer smaller units without those features.

A community kitchen, one of 7 on site

That sense of community — of family, of belonging — is at the heart of the success of Community First! Village.  The residents don’t just have a roof over their heads, which God knows is crucial, but they have a home, they become part of a family.  They take an active role in caring for the community and caring for each other, and there is a palpable sense of pride in this to be found when chatting with the residents.  There are quiet areas to sit and chat or just to contemplate life interspersed throughout the village, as well as a communal firepit area, a lovely remembrance garden for residents who have passed, a Wellness and Respite Center, community library, and so much more!

Other notable ventures in the village include an outdoor theater with movie nights that are open to the general public (partnering with Austin’s iconic Alamo Drafthouse, the Community Cinema presents free weekly screenings throughout the year) — and the volunteer-operated Community Grille is all over the concessions!

Need your brakes fixed? They got you covered!

The village works toward the goal of being self-sustaining. On site there is a fantastic community organic farm with gorgeous produce I found myself envious of!  Residents can spend time working at the garden in addition to several on-site, for-profit enterprises, including a full service car care garage with two bays, a beauty salon, a full service screen printing operation, a blacksmithing shop producing excellent metal works, a wood-working shop, an art house for  creative expression featuring painting and pottery making (and more!) as well as an on-site shop selling these handmade wares — there are even vacation rentals to be booked through Airbnb! (Seriously, y’all, click on the link above and check out how perfect and cute these rentals are; I would totally stay here!!)

Residents are paid living wages for their work at the community and its enterprises, and they pay rent for their lodgings.  They are able to attain/regain a sense of purpose, of contributing to a community and a greater good.

And the residents there are thriving!  The village has become a model for a handful of other such communities slowly springing up around the globe.  (Please watch some of the embedded videos, because the residents tell such poignant stories; they are truly heartwarming to see!)

If it’s not obvious, I came away from my visit to Community First! Village with my passion ignited and my sense of pride in ABoR’s involvement in this truly amazing endeavor absolutely overflowing!  There are so many opportunities for volunteering at the village and through Mobile Loaves & Fishes, and I really want to encourage anyone so inclined to do exactly that — or to pay a visit as a customer to any of their businesses and spend some money there!

If you’d like more information on any of this or are looking for ways to volunteer at the community, or to take a tour, please click on this link.  I plan to post regular updates about the village and its progress or any cool events happening, but please don’t wait for me — spread the goodness on your own!

Goodness

 

Growing Like a Weed

Boomtown Austin — still booming!

For those of us who live here, we already know this: the Austin metropolitan area has been growing like gangbusters for a while now.  And according to Ryan Robinson, the City of Austin’s demographer, the Austin area population will increase 2.75 percent in 2019; if this prediction holds up we will see 61,000 new residents in 2019, the equivalent of about 167 people per day!

So, whats driving this frenetic population growth?  Says Robinson: “With the pace of overall job creation remaining near 3.5 percent in Austin, anyone would be hard-pressed to predict much of a slowdown.”  Austin’s unemployment rate of 2.6% is well under the already impressively low national figure of 3.6%

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!

Our once-crunchy, weird, small-ish city has grown into a massive tech hotspot, with some of the biggest names in the industry moving or expanding their operations here: Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google (just to name a few) have begun or announced their company expansion plans for our fair city.

Increasing what is already a substantial presence here, Amazon recently announced their plans to add 800 new jobs at their tech hub near the Domain, which will bring their overall number of Austin-based employees to around 7,400.

Apple’s new Austin campus, which will be located just down the road from its existing facilities in northwest Austin, will initially accommodate 5,000 employees, with plans to eventually grow that number to 15,000.

Google has announced their plan to add an additional 5,000 employees who will be housed in a 35-story building downtown, with an expected 2022 opening — and this is in addition to the 800 or so Google employees already located here.

And Facebook, currently with about 700 employees in their downtown Austin offices, has now leased all 17 floors of the Domain 12 tower, which should be completed by the end of 2019.  In addition, the company has plans to lease 32,000 square feet at the upcoming Parmer Innovation Center in northeast Austin.

And again, the above is just a taste of what’s happening with Austin’s rapidly expanding job scene.  As of the end of March 2019, Austin added 22,700 net new jobs during the preceding 12 month period, pushing our ranking to 16 on the nationwide list of fastest growing major metropolitan areas.

GETTING HERE

With all those new bodies, we obviously need to update our capacity for folks to fly in and out.  In February, the first phase of the $350 million terminal expansion project opened in the Barbara Jordan Terminal at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport — and this is just the beginning of ABIA’s expansion plans, which will see it gearing up for an expected 30 million air travelers passing through annually by 2030. Considering there were approximately 16 million travelers who passed through the Austin airport in 2018, that means in just over 10 years’ time we will see almost double that number — wow!

GETTING AROUND

Of course one of the more pressing issues that comes with all these new people showing up on our doorstep is the worsening congestion on our roads.  Ask anyone who commutes on our already clogged highways — even after the addition of toll roads and express lanes over the last decade — we are still struggling mightily.  To be honest, we are way behind the curve when it comes to reasonable mass transit options in Austin, which is something our city planners, along with Capital Metro are trying to address.  We are currently in the community engagement phase of Project Connect, which is a bold  and multi-pronged plan to tackle some of our our transit problems and will include fully electric high capacity rapid transit vehicles, light rail, express bus and commuter rail expansion.  Ongoing right now is engineering and environmental review, along with vehicle review/selection.  There is a proposed referendum date for the project of sometime in 2020.

HOUSING

So what effect has this growth had on local real estate? As you might have easily guessed, our housing market remains incredibly strong, with the median single family home price in the greater Austin metropolitan area reaching $320,000 in April.

We are currently ranked 5th nationally in new home starts, up 7% over last year, and indications are that this should remain strong throughout the year.  Leasing demand in Austin is up 7% over last year, with the average apartment occupancy rate hovering around 93%.

THE GOOD NEWS

The good news is Austin is a vibrant, flourishing city with a strong economy and loads of opportunity. Homeowners and investors have seen their real estate values skyrocket in a relatively short period of time (and unlike the housing bubbles in other cities of years past, this increase is based on actual growth rather than speculation).  And our home prices, while increasing steadily, are still among some of the most affordable compared to other major tech hubs around the country (I’m looking at you, San Francisco).  Yes, we are experiencing some growing pains, but there is a reason why Austin keeps being voted the Best City in America — and it ain’t just for the barbecue!

 

What’s doing, Austin?

It’s a happenin’ scene

Festivals, parties, charity events and other fun happenings are sort of a staple in Austin.  With (mostly) great weather and plenty of awesome venues we tend to be a hub for all manner of fun goings on — it’s part of what makes Austin such a great place to live!

Here’s a sampling of just some of what’s on the books for 2019:

South by Southwest (SXSW)
March 8 – 17 at the Austin Convention Center
Music, film, and interactive panels with big stars

Rodeo Austin
March 16 – 30 at the Travis County Expo Center
Livestock, games, food, sawdust & noisy fun

ABC Kite Fest
March 31 at Zilker Park
Kite flying and kite flying contests – fun for all!

Austin Food & Wine Festival
April 26 – 28 at Auditorium Shores
The name says it all!

Eeyore’s Birthday Party
April 27 at Pease Park
Keepin’ Austin weird…and  tipsy…

Pecan Street Festival
May 4 – 5 and September 21 – 22 on 6th Street downtown
Keeping Austin weird with food, crafts, art & people watching

Blanco Lavender Festival
June 7 – 9 on Pecan Street in Blanco
Lavender scented food, beverages, arts & crafts, and family fun

ROT (Republic of Texas) Biker Rally
June 12 – 16 at the Travis County Expo Center
4 noisy and fun days of bikes & bikers, with music and food

Austin Symphony Independence Day Concert & Fireworks
July 4th at Auditorium Shores
Bright lights, loud booms, pretty brass and strings

Float Fest
July 20 – 21 in Gonzales
Music, partying, and floating down the river

Austin Pride Week
August 2019 at Fiesta Gardens
Parade, fun, fashion, and fabulous-ness!

Bat Fest
August 24 at the South Congress Bridge
It’s bats, man! Plus live music and family activities

Fantastic Fest
September 19 – 26 at the South Lamar Alama Drafthouse
A sci-fi, action, fantasy, and horror film-lovers’ delight!

Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festival
October 4 – 6 and 11 – 13 at Zilker Park
Two weekends, 8 stages, and a HUGE roster of artists

Austin Film Festival
October 24 – 31 at various venues around town
Film screenings, writer panels, and parties

Texas Book Festival
October 26 – 27 at the State Capitol
Discussions,panels,and book-signings with over 250 authors

Formula 1, US Grand Prix
November 1 – 3 at Circuit of the Americas
America’s only Formula 1 race

Armadillo Christmas Bazaar
December 13 – 24 at the Palmer Events Center
Unique artists, cool crafts, tasty eats, and Christmas shopping

Trail of Lights
December at Zilker Park
Holiday lights, food, and fun for the whole family

There is always something going on in our fair city — so check some of these out, get out there and get into it!

And please do keep Austin weird! 😉