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This series looks at how local, state and educational policies affect the neighborhood – everything from City Council representation to childhood obesity.

The Challenging Task of Cleaning Up Dove Springs

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT
Ron Potts makes sure the city's codes and regulations are observed in Dove Springs. His three major challenges are trash piles, overgrown weeds and grass and broken fences.

The Dove Springs neighborhood in southeast Austin runs from Ben White to William Cannon, bound by Montopolis and Pleasant Valley on the east, and Interstate 35 on the west. One of the issues affecting Dove Springs is its appearance. Piles of trash, broken fences and overgrown weeds and grass contribute to its visual blight.
Ron Potts is at the wheel.

“We’re going down Stassney, because normally Stassney is pretty horrible in my vision.” He works for the City of Austin’s Code Compliance office, the guys that enforce the city’s codes and regulations.

In this part of town, Potts’ major challenge is the trash. For a minute, he stops by a house with a large pile of trash. “I see [what] looks like a dishwasher, piles of trash, old furniture, cardboard boxing.” He keeps examining the property. “And you can tell it’s been out there for a while because you see some of the weeds growing around it and yet the grass is cut in front of it.”
Potts starts the truck again and continues pointing to all the things that contribute to the visual blight. But he says the trash is just a symptom of a larger problem. Potts believes the real challenge is the cultural and language barriers people in this community experience. About two-thirds are non English-speakers. Something lost in translation are the bulk-pick-up notices. Often, right after the notices arrive, people immediately haul out their trash - even when the notice is weeks ahead of schedule.

Potts has been advocating for an education campaign that could change the culture here. But for the time being, he’s more concerned with other things. Last month, his whole attention was devoted to his back to school clean-up strategy: He hired a crew to cut all the overgrown grass in a 1,000 foot radius around each of the neighborhood’s schools.

To some, the picture in Dove Springs may seem grim. But many of the people who actually live there are hopeful.

Marquise Booze is 20. He’s getting ready for his first day of work at a new full-time job. Like many families in this neighborhood, Booze shares a home with another family. He lives with his in-laws. Moving here was against all the bad things he had heard about the neighborhood. “It’s a mellow neighborhood,” says Booze, “it’s not all that bad. It’s starting to become nicer and cleaner, more quieter.”

Still, police presence is a constant. Gangs are too.

Near Booze’s home there is a strip mall. Alondra Gaona was getting hair nails done. She lives in Bastrop now, but the 19 year-old says she sees some pockets of change. “A lot of the homes that, you know, back then literally looked like they were abandoned now are being remodeled”, Gaona says, “giving it a more modernized look.”

So, where are the changes coming from? Recently community members, city officials and some non-profits developed a plan. City council member Laura Morrison says over the last three years or so, a series of reports have come her way. She noticed all of them were about Austin’s southeast corner.

“They would sort of track and do maps of where our hot spots are for various issues,” Morrison says, “and no matter what the various issues were, Dove Springs was showing up as a hot spot.”

The reports also got UT’s attention. Now, hundreds of students volunteer for a day of massive cleanup in Dove Springs. Also, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation put together a five-year health initiative at no cost to the community. And that’s the thing city code enforcer Potts stresses: the need for money that supports every initiative because, as he puts it, “this is not a quick fix.”

Credit Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News
On Stassney Lane, house after house is littered with trash. The neat piles disband under the elements as they sit outside for weeks.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.