Fastest Growing U.S. City Faces Housing Shortage
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The Census Bureau recently put out a list of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. Four of them are in central Texas including the number one, San Marcos. It's just outside the state capital of Austin. Reporter Joy Diaz of member station KUT paid San Marcos a visit and sent this postcard from a place where a lot of people are flocking.
JOY DIAZ, BYLINE: From the highway, it's hard to tell San Marcos is the country's fastest-growing city. On the right, there are vast, open fields, on the left, two large and very popular outlet malls where you can find anything from the Gap and Guess to Ralph Lauren and Saks Fifth Avenue.
MAYOR DANIEL GUERRERO: When it comes to the outlet malls, we are very blessed and forward-thinking.
DIAZ: San Marcos mayor, Daniel Guerrero, describes how important the malls are to his city.
GUERRERO: It attracts almost 13 million individual guests each year.
DIAZ: And it's a huge financial support for the city. Mall shoppers don't stay of course, but what does bring people to live here is Texas State University. It's the city's largest employer.
GUERRERO: The average age of a citizen in San Marcos is roughly about 25 to 26 years old as well, so we're a young community.
DIAZ: Students make up many of the 10,000 people who've moved to San Marcos since 2010, pushing the population from 45,000 to just over 54,000 today. Amanda Hernandez came from Ohio for a job at McAllen before moving to San Marcos.
AMANDA HERNANDEZ: I knew I wanted to live in Central Texas. I was considering Houston for a while, and it just wasn't right for me. I had visited both places, and it's just the way it made me feel when I was here versus everywhere else that I was.
DIAZ: Hernandez wears her hair short, and in her corporate pantsuit, she looks the part of the city planner she is. She carries a colorful tote with her towel and snorkel. She often goes for a swim in the San Marcos River during her lunch time.
HERNANDEZ: We try to go if it's warm enough and we don't have 1 o'clock meetings. You don't want to walk in with, you know, the snorkel thing you get on your face. It's kind of embarrassing for a 1 o'clock meeting. But wet hair, I don't have any hair. It doesn't bother me.
DIAZ: Hernandez's move is typical of what demographer Ryan Robinson calls the Texas two-step.
RYAN ROBINSON: So people move to Texas because the economic opportunity in Texas is still far greater than almost every other part of the country, and maybe they initially move to Dallas or Houston. And then they slowly realize that Austin's really where they want to be. And they do, a stepwise - a two-step migration.
DIAZ: The influx has created a housing shortage. Only half of the university students can find a place in San Marcos. The other half commute from Austin or San Antonio, the two cities that flank San Marcos.
AMIR KAIKHAH: We do mostly apartment locating.
DIAZ: That's real estate agent Amir Kaikhah. The two phones on his desk barely stopped ringing.
KAIKHAH: That's how busy we are. They call in twos. They call at the same time, you know.
DIAZ: Kristie Stark, the city's assistant director of planning and development, says the greatest need is for single-family homes, a fact that hasn't escaped the notice of investors.
KRISTIE STARK: People who had been holding stuff back are now actually bringing that to us and say, hey, we're ready, we're ready to build. You know, some of that actually has been permitted and is ready to go. Some of it, we're just in that process right now.
DIAZ: All this growth has brought challenges.
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UNIDENTIFIED NEWSCASTER: We're still looking at very slow traffic coming southbound on 35. They really don't...
DIAZ: Interstate 35 is the only route into the city and traffic is almost always stop-and-go. All this growth is straining the region's natural resources, too. In this drought-stricken state, even the most successful cities struggle to find an adequate water supply. For NPR News, I'm Joy Diaz in Austin.
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