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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.

Gentrification or a Renaissance in Austin's Dove Springs Neighborhood?

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT
The new Arbor Ridge development located on Nuckols Crossing Road has some homes finished and some under construction.

Dove Springs in Southeast Austin is just six miles from downtown – what many real estate agents consider a prime location. But the area is also one of the poorest parts of Austin. And for decades, it's had a less than desirable reputation.

Despite all that, change is coming to Dove Springs – with some believing they're witnessing the beginning of gentrification.

The area has traditionally been filled with low-income renters, many who are recent immigrants and don't speak English. Data may still point to those facts. But on the ground, the neighborhood is going through what many believe is a fast transformation.

Is this what gentrification looks like? Margaret Valenti, a senior planner with the City of Austin, doesn’t think so.

"There’s no grocery store, there’s no movie theater too terribly close. I don’t think there are any coffee shops," she says. "So, those types of things that make a neighborhood desirable – in terms of gentrification – are not existing in Dove Springs."

The bulk of the housing stock in Dove Springs is old, with many homes  from the 1940s. But there is a brand new subdivision being built right in the heart of Dove Springs – and it can barely keep up with sales.

Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT
Visitors at McKinney State Park's Lower Falls.

Luis Montejano is one of the salespeople for the Arbor Ridge development. In his office, he's surrounded by glossy pictures of nearby McKinney Falls.

"There’s 725 acres back there. There is a trail that actually leads you back there. So, there are upper falls and lower falls. So, it’s kind of like a mini-Niagara Falls back there," Montejano says.

Homes in the new development are going quickly – an interesting fact considering this particular lot sat vacant for years.

"We had the advantage of being able to build in a very reduced cost lot because it sat vacant for so long," Milestone Community Builders CEO Garrett Martin says.

Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT
A home under construction in the Arbor Ridge development.

The homes with high living room ceilings, sitting in walkable neighborhoods start at $140,000.

The gated community that Martin is building does not clash with the neighborhood the way "McMansions" do in East Austin. And that is just one of the – some would say – positive changes the community has experienced recently.

“What I see happening here is a renaissance – people are coming out, they are getting engaged," Valenti says. "Instead of the G word I would talk about the R word for this particular neighborhood, because it’s a groundswell of interest and input from the community and that puts pressures and shines a light on the need for the community from city programs and city decisions – and that’s a great thing."

Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT
Tina Domino walks her dog in the Arbor Ridge subdivision.

  Just six miles away from downtown Austin, new parks are being developed near bodies of water in a part of town that is still fairly affordable. And the longtime residents are getting to enjoy it  – because they haven't been pushed out yet.

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.
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