Dove Springs: Turning the Corner

Southeast Austin’s Dove Springs is a neighborhood in transition.  

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

Bound by Ben White, William Cannon, Pleasant Valley and Interstate 35, the area was originally a predominantly middle-class suburb. But after the closure of nearby Bergstrom Air Force Base in the 1990's, Dove Springs became a community marked by juvenile gang violence, drugs and poverty. 

While some of that crime has dissipated, Dove Springs still has one of the highest reported crime rates in Travis County. Two-thirds of the neighborhood population is Hispanic, making it one of the most rapidly growing immigrant neighborhoods in Austin. 

On Oct. 31, 2013,  Dove Springs was faced with an additional challenge: part of the neighborhood was submerged underwater during the Onion Creek floods. More than 600 homes were heavily damaged and 200 students were initially displaced. 

When KUT  began this series, the goal was to document the neighborhood's successes and setbacks. “Dove Springs: Turning the Corner” looks at how local, state and educational policies affect the neighborhood – everything from city council representation to childhood obesity. And while it will continue to examine those ideas in-depth, it will also follow the community as it rebuilds from the floods. 

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Austin
11:12 am
Fri June 20, 2014

Why the City's Cracking Down on Code Violations in Southeast Austin

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

For years, many Austin residents have made structural changes to their homes  like turning their garage into an apartment  without a permit. But the City of Austin has been taking a more proactive approach to code compliance lately, especially in Southeast Austin. 

"Austin Code is in the neighborhood daily," says Alanna Reed, a spokesperson with the city's Office of Code Compliance.

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Turning the Corner
9:33 am
Fri June 13, 2014

Dove Springs: Turning the Corner in Southeast Austin

Paula Aguilar, Leonor Vargas, George Morales, Eliseo Ramos, Bob Larson and Bene Jacobs (l to r)
KUT News

Welcome to Dove Springs. 

Driving through the neighborhood, you may not realize you’re in the same city that’s home to Franklin Barbeque, Barton Springs or the Continental Club. Five miles down I-35 from the Texas Capitol lies a modest residential area in the city’s southeast corner, one of the last neighborhoods many Austin residents pass as they head to the airport. 

It’s also one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods with a history of gangs and drugs, poverty, teen pregnancy and obesity.

But it's a neighborhood filled with hardworking parents, multi-generational families and cultural diversity. There’s always been a lot of pride, but recently, residents are giving the neighborhood a voice. They’re advocating for better services, organizing events and this fall, they’ll elect a city council member to specifically represent their district.

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Turning The Corner
2:50 pm
Thu June 12, 2014

This Teen's Looking Beyond Dove Springs – But Not Forgetting Where He Came From

Isay Medrano performs with the Mendez Middle School Varsity Orchestra during their Orchestra UIL competition at Austin High School. The orchestra achieved "sweepstakes" status for superior performance three times in a row.
Sam Ortega/KUT

Mendez Middle School lies in the heart of Dove Springs. It’s the only middle school in the neighborhood – so if you grow up in the area, it’s more than likely you’ve walked these halls.

Students here deal with lots of challenges. For one, more students at Mendez have at least one parent in jail than any other school in the district. Nearly 95 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Most students are being raised by just one parent. Others are undocumented – or their parents are.

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Turning the Corner
5:47 am
Fri May 30, 2014

For Dove Springs Principal, Data Are 'X-Rays' to Diagnose Ailing School

Student test scores have been improving at Mendez under Principal Ron Gonzales. Still, less than half of the seventh graders at Mendez passed the state assesment for Reading and Language Arts.
Bryan Winter for KUT News

This article is part of KUT's yearlong series Turning the Corner, taking a look at Austin's Dove Springs neighborhood. For decades, the neighborhood has had a negative reputation. Now, many community members are trying to change the perception of the 78744 zip code. Listen to those stories here.

Ron Gonzales loves numbers. It makes sense: he used to be a math teacher before he became a principal. His love of hard data is obvious when you enter Mendez Middle School, where he has been the principal for the past four years.  One of the first things you see is a bulletin board with each grade’s daily attendance rate. Next to it, he posts how much money the school lost due to absences that day.

“For example, yesterday we had 23 sixth graders and we also know lose $45 per scholar per day, so we lost $1,035 just for grade six," Gonzales says, pointing to the bulletin board.

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Turning The Corner
11:55 am
Fri May 16, 2014

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

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

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.

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Turning the Corner
10:59 am
Fri May 9, 2014

How Teen Pregnancies at Mendez Middle School Were Cut Down to Zero

Last year 22 middle school students in Austin ISD became pregnant, but none were at Mendez Middle School, despite its location in the Austin neighborhood with the highest teen pregnancy rate. So what happened?
flickr.com/dongkwan

This article is part of KUT's yearlong series Turning the Corner, taking a look at Austin's Dove Springs neighborhood. For decades, the neighborhood has had a negative reputation. Now, many community members are trying to change the perception of the 78744 zip code. Listen to those stories here.

In the 2012-2013 school year, the Austin school district reported 303 student pregnancies districtwide. 22 of those pregnancies were middle school students.

Despite its location in the neighborhood with the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Travis County, none of them were at Mendez Middle School. So what happened? 

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Health
12:20 pm
Fri April 18, 2014

How Halloween Flood Survivors are Recovering From Post-Traumatic Stress

Onion Creek resident Mike Espinoza put up motivational messages for his neighbors while he rebuilt from the Halloween floods. While repairs are underway in Onion Creek, recovering from psychological trauma is a different issue.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

On the surface of the Onion Creek neighborhood, there’s progress.

The community is slowly recovering from 2013's deadly Halloween floods. Many families are back in their homes, even though most homes have yet to be fully rebuilt. But scratch the surface, and people are still suffering the psychological effects of that night.

Often when we hear about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it's in the context of war. But David Evans, CEO of Austin/Travis County Integral Care, says PTSD can affect those who survive any traumatic experience. 

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Halloween Floods
4:33 pm
Sun April 13, 2014

Report Lists Over 100 Lessons From Austin's Deadly Halloween Floods

An unidentified man walks past an abandoned car along Pleasant Valley Road on Oct. 31, 2013.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

It’s taken the City of Austin and Travis County almost six months to finalize a report detailing emergency response to the 2013 Halloween floods: what worked, what needs improvement and what – flat out – did not work.

See the full report here [PDF].

The report repeatedly highlights communication problems: between agencies, then between first responders, then with the general public. There was no clear channel of communication. There was no awareness about the kind of people who lived in the affected area either: a majority-minority community that does not primarily communicate using English.

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Turning the Corner
8:50 am
Fri April 11, 2014

'I Gotta Keep Going:' Boxing Has Dove Springs Students Pushing Ahead

Benjamin Munoz practices on a speed bag at Mendez Middle School in Dove Springs.

For the past seven months KUT has focused on the Dove Springs neighborhood in southeast Austin. We’ve been looking at issues facing this largely poor, immigrant community: access to healthcare, educational issues, affordable housing – and how organizations and individuals are trying to bring change.

In October, we went to a boxing ring at Mendez Middle School. An after-school program there is teaching the kids boxing as a way to provide some structure after classes let out.

We went back to the ring recently – and found quite a few things had changed. 

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Turning the Corner
8:49 am
Fri March 21, 2014

There's a Different Kind of Homelessness for Onion Creek Flood Victims

Lydia Huerta stands by the RV that she called home for months. Her house is fully rebuilt, and her family is moving back in.
Credit Joy Diaz, KUT News

When you think about the word “homeless,” what comes to mind?

Homelessness can include a person who lacks housing. But it is also includes people in transitional housing. That's where Lydia Huerta, her husband and their three kids found themselves after they lost their home to flooding October 31.

Huerta says she "never really felt panic" until she lost her home. 

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Turning the Corner
7:45 am
Fri March 7, 2014

Dove Springs Residents Hope New City Council Elections Give Neighborhood a Voice

Edward Reyes, center, is the president of the Dove Springs neighborhood association. He's planning to run for city council in District Two, as the city transitions to single-member district elections.
Kate McGee, KUT News

Since August of last year, KUT has been looking at the Dove Springs neighborhood in Southeast Austin in its Turning the Corner series. It’s a neighborhood trying to rise above the challenges of poverty – and one common theme that’s been repeated by residents is that they feel ignored.

Cynthia Valadez used to live in the Dove Springs neighborhood.

“That was the one area of Travis County and the City of Austin that failed to get the clinics, the offices, the grocery stores, the doctor’s offices," Valadez says. "Anything that’s health related didn’t go there. You couldn’t do anything in that community."

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Halloween Floods
2:41 pm
Wed March 5, 2014

Austin to Receive Federal Funds to Buyout Homes in Onion Creek

The city of Austin has been awarded $11.8 million to buy out homes in the flood-prone Onion Creek neighborhood.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

The federal government is sending $11.8 million to Travis County to help buy out homes in the flood-prone Onion Creek neighborhood.

More than 600 homes in the area were damaged or destroyed in last October’s flooding, but Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s office says the effort to buy out homes and restore the area to its natural habitat goes back to another flash flood there in 1998.

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Turning The Corner
8:18 am
Fri February 21, 2014

This Dove Springs Librarian Tells Austin Students to 'Get Mad' and Demand an Education

For the past 11 years, Ivan Cervantes has served as the librarian at Mendez Middle School. He began a program that allows students to use computers and play learning-oriented games before school each morning.
Jon Shapley for KUT News

This article is part of KUT's year-long series called Turning the Corner, which takes a look at Austin's Dove Springs neighborhood. For decades, the neighborhood has had a negative reputation. Now, many community members are trying to change the perception of the 78744 zip code. Listen to those stories here.

In low-income neighborhoods around Austin, 87 percent of children entering kindergarten are considered unprepared for school, which means many of them lack basic literacy skills. At Mendez Middle School in Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood, that struggle is obvious. Last year, less than half of Mendez sixth graders passed the state standardized test for reading. 

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