Aging Population Grows as More Retirees Move to Austin
About five years ago, John Swift and his wife looked around their 6,000-square-foot Dallas-area house and decided it was just too much. Both their sons had graduated from the University of Texas and were living in Austin. The house they’d raised their children in was now far too big and the property taxes far too high. They packed up and headed for Austin.
“We had an opportunity to move to a place where there’s no maintenance and we’re close to family,” said Swift, who retired 15 years ago and now splits his time between Austin and a second home in Canada.
The Swifts are part of a growing movement dubbed the Silver Tsunami - it's not just young professionals and the creative class that Austin is attracting, the city's aging population is also growing. In 2012, about 20 percent of the Austin population was over the age of 50, and that number is growing as Baby Boomers residing in Austin age but also as retirees from other areas relocate here.
“We have quite a bit of data demonstrating that Austin is growing older literally by the day,” said Sly Majid, chief service officer for the Office of the Mayor and a member of the Mayor’s Task Force on Aging.
Austin is ranked the third fastest growing community in the country of people over the age of 65 and the single fastest growing pre-senior population (those aged 55 to 64) – that second demographic more than doubled in the past decade, according to City of Austin and U.S. Census data. In fact, by 2040, Majid said, one in five Austinites will be over the age of 65.
“While we’re still a young city, the percentage of the older population is increasing and will continue to do so over the next couple of decades,” Majid added.
Settling in the Central City
A growing number of Austin’s new aging population is choosing to settle downtown, where the average new condo price surpassed the $1 million mark late last year. Realtor Jude Galligan, who blogs about the downtown housing market on Downtown Austin Blog, said 50 percent of his personal business is represented by empty nesters.
“The kids are in college, they have big homes that are starting to fall apart in their stodgy boring neighborhood, and they want more,” Galligan said. “They have disposal income; they have the resources required in markets that are generally expensive.”
Often, in fact, the downtown condo is a second home for many of these empty nesters and retirees, Galligan said, adding that a Hill Country ranch and a Downtown Austin condo is a common combination.
Swift said it’s downtown living that prompted him and his wife to choose The Shore condominiums as their second home, citing the walkability of downtown as a major attraction.
“If you don’t want to use your car, you never have to,” he said. “You can walk to the Four Seasons or PF Chang’s; you’re just steps away from 5th and 6th Streets, if you want to go there. There’s fresh bread down the street at Easy Tiger.”
In addition to the nightlife, the turnkey lifestyle – lock the door and leave your home in the safety of a doorman, concierge and security staff – is another big draw with downtown condo living. Of course, moving from a larger house with a yard into a condo takes some getting used to. In fact, community building among the aging population is one of the issues the Mayor’s Task Force on Aging, which was founded in September 2012, will tackle.
Building a Senior-Friendly Austin
“The growth of the aging population will have a major impact on our community,” Majid said. “There are a lot of issues and opportunities for us to prepare for what folks are dubbing the Silver Tsunami – the ability to provide mental and physical health, mobility and community so people aren’t isolated.”
The Mayor’s Task Force on Aging is a group of community leaders from all spectrums of the community that will look at these issues broadly and then develop strategies to improve what already exists and fill in the gaps where needed. For example, the Task Force, in partnership with AARP, held an event Jan. 23 to discuss what needs to be done to make Austin a senior-friendly, walkable city. At the same event, Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced that Austin is now part of the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities, a group that learns from each other to make their communities more inviting and accessible for the aging population.
“It’s a work in progress, but we’ll hopefully continue to move into a direction where we’re putting together tangible items that the City and other entities can begin to work on together,” Majid said. The City must be doing something right though, to attract such a growing population.
Barry Lewis and his wife Romi took up residency in The Austonian in 2010, moving here from Westlake for the “proximity to restaurants, bars, UT, the trail, medical infrastructure and my Masonic Lodge,” he said, adding that he’s been able to make “instant connections with a wide variety of people and activities.”
Like Lewis and Swift, a good percentage of the aging population that moves to Austin is from Texas, but as Austin tops list after list of best, most affordable and most cultured places to live, best place to retire is sneaking in as well.
“The population growth isn’t relegated to young professionals,” Majid said. “Austin is a fun and vibrant place – there’s no snow and not much inclement weather. Austin as a great place is contributing to the fact that more people over 65 are moving here to spend their golden years.”