UNIVERSAL CITY, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 29: Actress Jamie Lynn Sigler visits Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family” at Universal Studios Hollywood on January 29, 2020 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)
When you pay close attention to the news cycle, you start to sense when a story is about to “hit.” Much like tides, there’s an mistakable pull, a shift, when something goes from just a story to the cultural zeitgeist.
Such was the case earlier this week when the New York Times published a breathless article about three C-list (D-list?) Hollywood celebrities who traded California, specifically Los Angeles, for Texas, specifically Austin, aka the L.A. of Texas. The piece documented three wealthy white women — Glee actor Becca Tobin; Hillary Duff’s sister, Haylie; and The Sopranos star Jamie-Lynn Sigler, all of whom are drawn to the Lone Star State for its “small-town hospitality and everyday conveniences.”
“You don’t pay for parking anywhere,” Tobin told the Times, a quote openly mocked in the Twittersphere this week.
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When the writer tepidly brings up how Austin’s red-hot housing market is leading to devastating affordability crisis (look for it three paragraphs from the bottom!), Tobin counters that she donates to Mobile Loaves & Fishes, the Alan Graham-founded nonprofit that serves the Central Texas homeless population, as if affordability can be offset like a sort of housing carbon credit. For a city just weeks out of contentious campaign to ban homeless camping, about which the article’s subjects and author seem blissfully unaware, it’s not just tone-deaf, it’s insulting.
This Hollywood actor turned laid-back Texan article got a different, more visceral reaction than the ones that came before it, of which there have been many. (Just a few of the stars who have decamped to Texas in the pandemic? James van der Beek, Adrian Grenier, Chris Harrison, and most of the Queer Eye cast, all covered ad nauseam by news outlets.)
Unlike those other stars, it’s easy to mock Tobin and friends because they’re women and white and earnest. And it’s hard to imagine Meadow Soprano trying to suck the marrow out of local culture to turn a profit, unlike, say, Joe Rogan and Elon Musk, two other recent transplants.
Though it doesn’t grab the headlines that Austin does, San Antonio is also seeing the rewards, and perils, of being among the “affordable and cool” cities. Companies are ditching their high-tax headquarters for the Alamo City (I wrote about one this morning) and millennials are scouring Eastside Zillow listings to find their first home.
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As of May 2021, San Antonio’s median home price is $282,400, a 17 percent jump over last year, while the average home price cracked $341,853, a 23 percent leap over May 2020, according to the San Antonio Board of Realtors. Suddenly, San Antonio’s home prices are on par with Houston, where the median home price reached a record $295,000 in April, according to the Houston Chronicle.
This attention is nothing new for the Lone Star State, which exists as a contradiction. What other state is painted as an underdog, yet boasts four of the top 10 biggest cities in the U.S.? What other state can sign into law the most restrictive women’s reproductive bill in the nation and abandon nearly every restriction on gun control in the same week? What other state has endured decades of being a punch line for coastal elites only to watch as those same coastal elites discovered the magic and myth of Texas?
Part of that contradiction is acknowledging the bad parts, the muck and mire. So much of Texas’s past is rooted in the oppression of Brown and Black people: colonialism, slavery, segregation, red-lining, the list goes on. The newcomer narrative fits this pattern, and articles like this Times piece feel like whitewashing in real time. For every transplant looking to “enjoy a less hectic, and less expensive, life,” in Texas, there are countless people just trying to make it by.
My hope is that there are more stories about the real-impact behind this migration, with longer research times and preferably not penned by a white person who spent most of her career covering Austin culture (hi, hello). But it’s important to at least get the conversation started. If we don’t have these discussions, if we don’t enact policy changes, invest in public transit, adopt common sense land use codes, fight for living wages, then there’s a chance that the people who make up the heartbeat of our cities will leave.
And where can they go? California?
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Katie covers travel, culture, breaking news, and the occasional sports hot take. She can be found @katiefriel.