Workforce Program to Target 12th Street
The corner of 12th and Chicon streets on Austin’s east side is a notorious spot for drug deals. Now the city wants to start a program designed to change the area’s image by providing residents job and entrepreneurship training.
On East 11th Street, you’ll find a stretch of gentrified East Austin that reflects the city’s investment here over the last decade. But some recall the days before 11th street was so well groomed. Nelson Linder directs the Austin branch of the NAACP.
“You had high drug use. You had high prostitution use – absolutely. High violence – definitely,” Linder said. “11th Street was worse. Overall, it was worse than 12th Street.”
The city wants to transform East 12th Street like it did East 11th. The intersection of 12th and Chicon is home to several generations of families, laid-back bars and ramshackle eateries. It’s also home to substance abusers and the drug dealers who cater to them.
The city has tried to clean up 12th Street through beefed up police patrols. Austin Police Sergeant Robert Jones has patrolled the area for 17 years.
“What we do is use high-profile patrol,” Jones said. “We have directed patrols and officers go out there in visible marked units and do enforcement operations.”
Jones acknowledged that despite those operations, crime – specifically drug dealing – is still a problem.
“We’re looking at some different strategies to try to reduce those crime trends that we’re seeing,” Jones said. “It’s something that’s going to take a lot of time and we’re going to put a lot of effort into reducing those activities.”
Now the city is trying a different approach: a pilot workforce program targeting residents of the 11th and 12th Street corridors. Its aim is to help people in the area learn computer and job-search skills, as well as how to start their own businesses. Austin City Council member Chris Riley is one of the program’s sponsors.
“The concern is that there are long-standing issues with disparities in employment and education levels in that area,” Riley said. “There is a real need for some work-force development so that folks in that area are ready for the opportunities that are coming down the road.”
To roll out the program, the city hopes to partner with Austin Community College and Goodwill Industries to provide classes. Riley said things are taking shape as the city starts to put properties near 12th and Chicon up for sale and the area prepares for a renaissance of its own – like 11th Street before it.
“But we want to make sure that, as that happens, the folks that have been waiting nearby aren’t bypassed as the area takes off,” Riley said.
East side residents have been waiting for 12th and Chicon to take off for a long time.
“They did 11th Street almost seven to ten years ago. So people here are tired of waiting and waiting, and all of a sudden the plan changes every time,” said Nelson Linder of the NAACP. “Understand – there is a lot of doubt here about what the city will do. And will it be equitable when they do it? So, yeah, [there are] a lot of concerns.”
The city is expected to release more details about the workforce program this summer.