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. 

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."

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.

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. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

The city of Austin limits the number of unrelated adults who can live in a single-family home. Right now, that limit is six.

But there’s a push before the Austin City Council to lower that number to four.  The Austin City Council meets today to decide whether to impose new rules that would lower occupancy limits – and do away with what some call “stealth dorms.”

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. 

KUT is documenting those efforts, the people trying to make a difference, the setbacks they face and how they work to overcome them. Listen to more stories here.

Dove Springs is the only neighborhood in Austin where you can find a parole office – one of the reasons more parolees end up in Southeast Austin than any other neighborhood.

Jon Shapley for KUT News

The mostly uninhabited neighborhood of Onion Creek in southeast Austin has experienced some growth. But it’s growth the few neighbors who are back do not welcome.

Mold and mildew is growing in many of the homes that were left uninhabited after last year’s floods, which could create health problems for those living in Onion Creek.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

  Chronic absenteeism is a common problem among low-income schools; Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood is no exception. The neighborhood has the largest concentration of high absenteeism students in the city – and teachers say there are some students who miss up to 40 days of school in one semester.

But many students aren’t skipping class to avoid schoolwork. Some lack transportation; others are dealing with health issues. Still, other have responsibilities like raising siblings or working to support their families.

Isay Medrano is one of those students.

Joy Diaz/KUT

The flood-stricken neighborhood of Onion Creek honored the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today by cleaning a community park that’s been covered with debris since last year’s Halloween flood.

Metallic doors, glass from broken windows, gas tanks were among the many items strewn about the park. Mary-Lee Plumb-Mentjes filled an entire bucket with broken glass. “I’ve always picked up trash,” Plumb-Mentjes said. “We’ve been given two hands [and] I feel we should use [them] when we see something,”

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT

The city of Austin has made offers to buy at least two dozen homes damaged by the Halloween flood. Why then, are some homeowners refusing to sell?

Floods are nothing new in South East Austin’s Onion Creek neighborhood. And neither is the city’s buyout program. It began back in 1998. The idea has always been to buy homes in the floodplain using taxpayer money to avoid future loss of life and property damages.

Terry Morris, a contractor and a real estate agent in Austin, owns a duplex in Onion Creek that’s been on the city’s buyout list for years. He recently opted out of the program.

Spencer Selvidge for KUT News

Damaris Covarrubias lives in Dove Springs, with her entire extended family. It is a huge family. So large in fact, that Damaris has never stopped to actually count how many there are.

“Okay, my grandparents, I think they had 9 kids. Cousins? I think there’s like 30 or 40 of us. Including the little ones? I don’t know. And now every cousin’s having babies so it keeps on growing and growing,” Covarrubias admits. 

The vast majority of her cousins have become parents while they were still in their teens, and that’s pretty typical for Dove Springs.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

It is property tax season and, for the people affected by last October’s floods, there will be some relief. The disaster declaration Texas Governor Rick Perry signed in December means flood victims can have their properties re-assessed and can make their payments in installments.

The relief will be small, since it will only cover the months of November and December, but Travis County Tax Assessor Bruce Elfant said at a press conference today that, for over 600 properties, the relief means they’ll have a smaller tax payment. 

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News

Community health workers – or promotoras de salud – with the Latino Health Care Forum are collecting data about people still living in Dove Springs after the Halloween floods.

"We have heard a lot of really sad stories …you just start crying," says promotora Norma Lopez. “We’re going to be working on-hand with our people. Refer them to whatever they need, any kind of help.”

Promotoras say they spent about a month getting feedback from people who still need help, especially medical care. The results will identify Dove Springs families still in need.

Joy Diaz, KUT News

In Southeast Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood, crime is a constant.

Ever since an uptick in crime in the 1990s, police have maintained a visible presence in the neighborhood – and residents of Dove Springs haven’t always had a favorable view of the Austin Police Department.

There was a time when the department’s relationship with Dove Springs was especially strained. During the summer of 2005, APD Officer Julie Schroeder shot and killed 18 year-old Dove Springs native Daniel Rocha.

A re-enactment video created by the department in investigating Rocha’s death is set on Pleasant Valley Road – one of Dove Springs’ main thoroughfares.

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