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What Does It Mean If Some City Council Districts Have Children and Some Don't?

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Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News
Despite their close proximity, Districts 4 and 9 have a huge gap in the number of children in each, and some wonder how that will affect each district's budgets and policies going forward.

Every one of Austin's 10 geographic districts is unique, but there's one fact they share: Each has roughly 80,000 people.

That allows for a relative population equality between the districts, but the differences in district-to-district demographics can be anything but equal.

One of the biggest differences is between Districts 4 and 9.

District 9 has about a fourth of the number of children in District 4 and some wonder if that disparity will affect how the Austin City Council prioritizes money for each district in future budgets.

If you were to go to Hyde Park in the middle of the day, you'd see very few children. Clara Bradbury says there are normally five or six. Bradbury and her mother Gayle are there with 2-year-old Lawton. The wind is blowing gently. It's a cool sunny day. The birds are chirping. It's a beautiful, but there are no kids to enjoy the beauty.

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Credit Joy Diaz, KUT News
Gayle Bradbury is the grandmother of 2-year-old Lawton. Gayle and her daughter Clara Bradbury often meet at Hyde Park. Both live in District 9 and love the walkability and amenities that come with the neighborhood, but there are few children in the district.

City of Austin Demographer Ryan Robinson says that's because District 9 has virtually no children.

"Roughly only five percent of its total population is underneath the age of 10," Robinson says. "On the other end of that continuum, almost one in five inhabitants of [District 4] is underneath the age of 10."

The differences between the two could not be more noticeable and, as she strolls through Hyde Park with her daughter and grandson, Clara Bradbury wonders if those differences and demographics will have implications in how people vote for things like bonds in the future.

"I hope that's not a sign that the benefits for kids are going to go away in this neighborhood," says Bradbury. "This is a great neighborhood for kids."

Some like Bradbury wonder if city money for District 9's parks and other family amenities will shrink as the number of kids shrinks.

But many families that can't afford to live in affluent District 9 have moved their children north into District 4, which features some of the poorest neighborhoods, such as the ones around the Rundberg and Cameron Road areas.

District 4's Austin City Council Member Greg Casar says the large number of children in his district bucks the enrollment trend seen across other district's schools.

“We have different issues than other parts of the city do, where schools are becoming under-enrolled," he says. "In ours, they’re over-enrolled.”

And they are projected to stay over-enrolled in the foreseeable future, which will likely affect where builders and developers look when they plan future projects.

Affordable housing advocate Mandy DeMayo recently sat at a projection meeting with demographers and strategists. She says she was surprised to learn that the Austin Independent School District is projected to lose around 4,000 students over the next 10 years, which means some areas of town could have empty schools.

For DeMayo, that means Austin should be investing in housing that is affordable and accommodates families, and hopes to see developers building three and four bedroom apartments in the future.

She wonders what's going to happen to those schools if the housing stock is not increased.

"We've already made that investment," she says. "It's time we align all of our investments in transportation, housing, schools."

Just as the priorities and expenditures of families are often determined by children's needs, those without kids spend money in a way that clearly reflects they are childless.

City Demographer Ryan Robinson hopes city council members will start crafting "mini budgets" and policies that are customized to reflect differences in district-by-district priorities and needs.

“They are unequal, and treating unequals equally is the height of inequity,” he says. “The out-and-out characteristics of each district, I think, will in fact be manifested in budget policy decisions.”

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