The Austin neighborhood has seen a significant decline in its population, attributed primarily to high foreclosures and the loss of jobs, according to some leaders in the community.
With a population of 103,304 residents, Austin remains Chicago’s largest community area, but between 2000 and 2009, the community has seen a 14,000 residential drop-or 12 percent of its population- according to census data analyzed by the Chicago News Cooperative.
Community organizer Elce Redmond attributed much of the flight to the high rate of foreclosures in the area. Foreclosure numbers from a recent Woodstock Institute study show that of the roughly 1,100 properties in Austin on Chicago’s vacant properties
index, 855 are foreclosure-related. Austin rivals only West Englewood for the number of properties in default, and it tops all community areas in the number of vacant properties.
Families in Austin have left both single-family and multi-unit homes, said Redmond, a lifelong Chicagoan and an activist for the South Austin Coalition Community Council.
Redmond said he’s seen a lot of people leave but doesn’t know where most are going, though “some are moving in with other family members.” He cautioned that Austin has a low response rate to the Census, which might in part account for the apparent dramatic change. According to the 2010 Census, resident response was just over 50 percent.
Still, the trend of people leaving is one that real estate agent Sidney Taylor thinks parallels the foreclosure crisis. Fewer people are coming to Austin and more people are leaving.
“Last year, I sold six houses,” Taylor, owner of Sir Sidney Realty, said. “Three years ago I was selling six houses a month.”
Since the turn in the economy has slowed down his work, Taylor has picked up a second job and is going to school to be a surgical assistant. His eight employees are down to only one. In his 20 years in the business, Taylor said he’s never seen it like this.
Along West North Avenue, which extends through the northern sections of the 29th and 37th wards and into the suburbs, the things that appear to be surviving are the barbershops and salons, storefront churches, and restaurants and a tax shop here and there. But in between the buildings are deserted lots, windows are barred and doors are boarded up. Young men loiter on corners.
When Taylor was a youth in Austin, this was not so. “You could easily find a factory job. People were dying to get into the Austin area then,” he recalled.
Now break-ins are higher, there is more unemployment, and insurance is higher, Taylor said.
Two main components play into population change, explained Lloyd Potter, director of the Institute for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio. One factor is natural increase – the number of births minus deaths; and the other is migration. A Chicago Reporter analysis of U.S. Census information from 2008 showed the West Side’s unemployment rate among the highest in the nation at 20.9 percent.
“In a community where jobs are not being created, or where jobs are being lost, you’ll see people moving out of the community and usually moving toward the opportunity,” Potter said.
The residents leaving Austin are likely those who are in their child-bearing years and looking for economic opportunity that cannot be found there, Potter explained. Older residents left behind, meanwhile, might not have as much of an incentive to leave.
Though forced to get a second job to support himself in light of his declining business, Taylor said he has a reason to stay.
“I could close it down and go on about my business, but black boys need to see black men owning businesses,” Taylor said.
Ald. Emma Mitts, of the 37th Ward, and Ald. Deborah Graham, of the 29th Ward, could not be reached for comment.