Five Things We Learned Covering Pflugerville

By Blair Waltman-Alexin | Tuesday, August 8th 2023

At this time last year, we here at Decibel were just starting to report on Pflugerville. We were starting to meet with community members, beginning to build relationships that would be the foundation for our community-led journalism for the next 14 months. We were also just starting to learn about the challenges faced by community members, and the points of pride residents had about their city.

Our team would eventually cover these stories and more during our time working in Pflugerville. And while our reporting has touched on a lot of different topics, several themes emerged. As we wrap up our work here, we wanted to look back on the major issues that will continue to impact Pflugerville residents. Here’s what we learned.

Pflugerville Is Growing


Members of the community work on a paint by numbers mural on the side of Pflugerville’s city hall. At this summer event, we spoke to several residents who brought up issues of affordability and inclusion for their community. Photo by Samantha Guzman.

Central Texas as a whole is experiencing a population boom, and Pflugerville is no exception. Between 2010 and 2020, the population has grown 45%, according to the city’s 2021 Community Profile Report. And it doesn’t show signs of slowing down according to Jeremy Frezzell, the planning and development services director for the city of Pflugerville.

“I would say a three to five percent growth is what we would anticipate to see,” Frezzell says. “[It’s] a pretty decent pace.”

Many residents we spoke with [told us]( "Decibel: "What is the future for our growing Pflugerville?"") they had moved here in part because of the lower cost of living. But another factor was huge for some families relocating to Pflugerville: diversity.

“Pflugerville appealed to us because there is such a wide range of diversity especially in terms of race and ethnicity,” said Kimberly Deckel. When we spoke to her in the fall of 2022, her family had just recently moved to Pflugerville. “We’d love to know what their plans are to keep Pflugerville affordable and then also to keep Pflugerville diverse.”

Over 16% of Pflugerville residents identify as Black or African-American, compared to Austin’s 7.7%. For many families, Pflugerville’s more diverse makeup makes it a more appealing place to call home. But some experts say that increased diversity is due in part to gentrification and rising costs in Austin.

Housing costs have increased in the capital city, and Black and brown families in Austin have continually been pushed to the outlying areas. Some have moved to Pflugerville, but it also may not be an affordable haven for long. Rent has increased over the past few years, and while prices have leveled out, the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in Pflugerville sits at $1370 a month, above the state average of $1141. Resident Marc Maddox says rising rents have impacted where he stays.

“In 2005 when I moved here, I had a … two bedroom [apartment], for $800,” Maddox said in late 2022. “I'm paying $1300 for five hundred square feet by myself now. It's very difficult to live here still.”

Still, development isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon. More than 18,000 future dwelling units are estimated to be added to Pflugerville in the near future. But the growth is also contributing to challenges for the local school district that could cause campuses to close.

Growing City, Shrinking Schools

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A presentation is given to the Pflugerville Board of Trustees during a regular meeting.

Sounds paradoxical, right? How can Pflugerville have more people and need fewer classrooms? The answer is that attendance rates are dropping across the district. Lower attendance rates combined with inflation and stagnant enrollment numbers have caused the district to be in a multi-million dollar budget deficit. That caused Pflugerville Independent School District to consider closing some schools, but the district ultimately opted to not close any campuses at this time.

PfISD Superintendent Doug Killian says the city’s growth is actually adding to the district’s money challenges.

“We dropped weighted average daily attendance, divided by a larger number of property wealth,” Superintendent Doug Killian said in an interview in February. “When kids don't come to school, not only do we lose the state funding, but we actually get hit for more recapture payments as we're more property wealthy.”

As Pflugerville has boomed, property values have increased, requiring PfISD to pay into the state’s recapture system. Another issue is that growth is happening unevenly across the district. At town hall meetings earlier this year, district officials showed that enrollment was declining in the southwest part of the district. Most growth was occurring east of State Highway 130, but even those numbers were cooling off. At the same time, PfISD must contend with staff shortages that schools everywhere are facing.

“This shifts our resources to other areas,” Killian said in February. “We would think, ‘oh, we'll just bus people.’ There are no bus drivers. We can't.”

PTOs, educators, students and school board members including Superintendent Killian [pushed state lawmakers to increase school funding]( "Decibel: "We're all in it together:" community fights for school funding"). While some funding bills were passed, legislation that would have increased the per pupil allotment that PfISD staff and community members were hoping for did not advance. Superintendent Killian said in May that school closures may be back on the table in the coming years.

Growth Is Also Impacting Agriculture


A presentation is given to the Pflugerville Board of Trustees during a regular meeting.

“I figured it would be a slower growing area, especially that area because nothing was out here,” said Joe Villareal. He owns several acres near Lake Pflugerville. What used to be mainly farmland is now crowded with housing subdivisions. “Housing is very limited here so investors and developers are always looking for space,” Villareal said.

He currently leases his land to Horse Empowered Learning Programs, Inc., or H.E.L.P., a horseback riding therapy program. Director Stephanie Powell says she’d love to expand the program and offer more classes. But for that she needs more horses, and more horses require more acreage, something that’s in short supply but high demand right now.

“I have emails and phone calls just about every day from people seeking out this program,” Powell said earlier this year. “We want to grow and continue to offer this, but we can't do it without the space.”

She’s not the only one struggling to find open acreage. Jane Taylor co-owns Green Thumb Farming along with her children. She’s been searching for acreage since 2020 so she can expand her business, but she’s been hampered by the lack of affordable space.

“The cost of land just went through the roof,” Taylor says. “We just didn't have the finances to be able to do that.”

Experts say prices for agricultural land have leveled off, but they still remain high. According to the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University, an acre of land in central Texas is currently going for roughly $1,000.

Some Residents Want More City Services


Senior Multimedia Journalist Blair Waltman-Alexin and Reporting Intern Briana Senegal listen to Carlos Gonzalez, a Pflugerville resident who stresses the importance of affordable health care for his community. “Here in the United States people ration care,” says Gonzalez. Photo by Jonathan Puente.

As Pflugerville grows, so do the needs of its citizens. Many residents want to see local government address issues specific to their community. Pflugerville resident Michelle Meija expressed concern for school safety and infrastructure needs.

“I'd like for them to address school zones and lights to make it safe for kids crossing the street, as well as the traffic for pick up and drop off,” Meija said in a discussion last fall.

Those needs align with Mayor Victor Gonzales’ priorities. Mayor Gonzales ran as the incumbent last fall unopposed. When [we took voters’ concerns to him]( "Decibel: "There's some exciting things coming.""), he said these were areas he wanted to focus on.

“I've seen a lot of changes in this community, just tremendous changes that have always been for the better,” Gonzales said. “So quality meets life is kind of our motto, and we'll continue to live up to that.”

Other residents wanted to know what plans local leaders had for broader policy issues. Resident Anna Martin wanted to know if Pflugerville would consider adopting resolutions like the Guarding the Right to Abortion For Everyone, or GRACE Act. Austin passed the resolution in 2022 after Roe V. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court.

“I know that in the Austin city limits, they've been doing a lot of work to make sure that abortion is decriminalized,” Martin said last fall. “I would like to see something similar happen in Pflugerville.”

Mayor Gonzales wouldn’t commit to any policy changes when we spoke to him in late 2022. His focus was on making sure the city ran smoothly and continued to attract growth.

“I think we take a broader perspective on those issues,” Gonzales said. “The council itself, we have not sat down and actually deliberated a policy or position on anything like that.”

Still, some residents see service gaps. Many have decided to fill those gaps themselves.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

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Volunteer Alex Marek (left) and St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church Deacon Bob McGregor (right) unload a delivery of rescued food items. Fletcher says since December they have given out roughly $14,000 worth of groceries.

Like so many communities, Pflugerville has no shortage of residents willing to lend a helping hand. We met residents trying to make their town better through all kinds of ways: starting green initiatives at their places of worship, creating clothing pantries or spearheading food rescue programs for those in need. And it makes a big difference to those who need to access those services. Sammy spoke to us on condition of anonymity last summer. She was picking up free food at the Saffron Trust Women’s Foundation Site in Pflugerville.

“It just really, really helped with our bills and everything,” Sammy says. “This was like a godsend.”

Some residents even provide assistance when it potentially puts them at risk. Pflugerville Gays was founded to be a resource network for the community, but co-founder Edgardo Cortez understands that doing so can put a target on their back. They had neo-Nazis protest one of their events in 2021. Still, he’s committed to assisting those around him.

“Is it scary? Yes, it is. Our goal still is to help, to provide the resources that are not available,” Cortez says. “I'm not going to let fear dictate the positiveness that we are creating, the goodness that we are showing to the community.”

Saying Goodbye

We’re not closing out this project because we’ve covered every issue. While we were able to cover a lot of ground in our time reporting on Pflugerville, there’s so many stories to still be shared about this community. Our goal is always to share stories that feel authentic to the people they’re about, but also tell them in a way that connects with viewers everywhere. While we’ll soon begin reporting in a new community, our goal remains the same. Whether you’re in Pflugerville, Del Valle, Dove Springs or somewhere else entirely, the story is unique, but the need for community is universal.

Community journalism doesn’t happen without community support.

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