Higher income, education levels describe newcomers to Liberty Hill

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An aerial view of Rancho Sienna subdivision, the site of the new Rancho Sienna Elementary School. (Courtesy Photo)

An aerial view of Rancho Sienna subdivision, the site of the new Rancho Sienna Elementary School. (Courtesy Photo)

By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

From Austin, Houston, California, New England, England, Romania, Tanzania and beyond, the supply of new families moving into the Liberty Hill area has grown from a trickle to a downpour.

As pastures give way to subdivisions and widened highways, The Independent consulted census data, a population study and relevant local authorities to paint a picture of the town’s changing face.

Compared to the population living in Liberty Hill 17 years ago, the average family moving in is wealthier, more educated, much more likely to live in restricted subdivisions, and less likely to have been born in Texas.

They are, however, just as likely to live in single family homes and have two to three children.

Between 2000 and 2015, the population grew from 6,061 to an estimated 11,725, with much of the growth having occurred in the past five years, according to U.S. census data for the 78642 zip code (few live in the actual city limits).

In 2010, Williamson County was the fastest growing county in the country. Today, it is ranked seventh.

The near double in population growth can be almost overwhelmingly attributed to “transplants,” or families moving into the area from outside, says Shane White, a local real estate agent who has sold Liberty Hill property since the early 2000s.

Data shows 74.06 percent of Liberty Hill residents were born in Texas in 2000. By 2014, that number dropped to 62.24 percent.

“This is the last unpainted canvas of Williamson County,” said Liberty Hill Senior Planner Sally McFeron, explaining that new roads such as US 183A has set Austin’s northbound growth corridor (the fastest growing in the nation) on track to soon reach Liberty Hill.

A 2016 report from School District Strategies, a demographic consulting firm hired by LHISD, showed that the first quarter of 2010 saw 18 closings for homes in the school district. The second quarter of 2016, the most recent available, saw 154. The report notes that this is the most amount of closings the Texas group had seen in one quarter.

The report also noted that new homes in the district yielded an average of 0.65 students per home, echoing observations by McFeron and White that the school was the top reason many families moved here.

The report said 65 percent of new homes are located in subdivisions that have base pricing over $300,000, with a median price of $348,381.

The median price for new homes in the Greater Austin area has remained at $282,000.

That number lines up with trends depicted in census data, which shows that families moving into Liberty Hill are wealthier than previous populations in the area.

In 2015, the median household income of a family in Liberty Hill with two working adults was $74,688, compared to $50,132 in 2000. The average income meanwhile, rose from $63,760 to $93,541 within the same period.

When growth in the average outpaces the median, it suggests an increasing weight at the outlying upper edge. This is further supported by the increasing number of households in Liberty Hill earning more than $200,000 a year, which ramped from 1.9 percent in 2000 to 8.3 percent in 2015.

Demographic reports often track income with increased education, and accordingly numbers for education in Liberty Hill also trend upward.

In 2000, 17.16 percent of the adult population had a bachelor’s degree or higher. In 2015, that percentage was 29.4 percent. In that same period, the percentage of adults with a high school education or greater rose from 75.65 percent to 92.7 percent.

The average man in Liberty Hill is significantly more likely than before to be a white collar worker, meaning in this case having a career in management, professional or related occupations.

The average woman is only slightly less likely. In 2000, 40.13 percent of women and 21.54 percent of men had white collar jobs. In 2014, those numbers are 37.27 percent for women and 34.74 percent for men.

White reported that his clientele when he began over 15 years ago was more often blue collar workers buying rural properties. Today, they are more often white collar workers buying “restricted” properties, that is, homes in subdivisions.

McFeron also noted that the majority of new development in Liberty Hill is subdivisions, and added that the majority of subdivisions are for single family homes.

The report from School District Strategies showed that Rancho Sienna, a subdivision off Ronald Reagan Boulevard, provided 32 percent of home closings in the school district last year. Rancho Sienna and the Santa Rita Ranch South subdivision combined produced 53 percent of new construction in the same period.

McFeron said it is “too early to call Liberty Hill a suburb,” though census data indicates that nearly half of the population drives a 30-minute or longer commute to work. The number has changed little since 2000.

Also tellingly, Liberty Hill families with children have on average 3.1 children, retaining an edge over the national figure of 2.5 over a period which has seen the population nearly double. Similarly, families in Liberty Hill are still more inclined to be married at 70 percent — 10 points above the national average.

Sources expect this steep growth to continue into the future.

The report for the school district shows almost 8,400 total future residential lots planned in LHISD. Enrollment is projected to climb by 876 students over the next three years, 1,658 over the next five years, and by 3,898 in 10 years.

“The city is going to look very different, even next year,” said McFeron. “But it’s an exciting growth.”

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