Police detail 3-year plan to spend grant to help troubled neighborhood.
With $1 million grant, police will try to revitalize Rundberg Lane area within three years.
Can a million dollars reduce crime and boost the quality of life in a troubled North Austin neighborhood? Austin police and a group of sociologists, working with as many residents as they can recruit for the cause, have three years to find out.
More than 100 people gathered at Lanier High School on Tuesday night to hear how police plan to spend a $1 million federal grant aimed at improving the crime-plagued Rundberg Drive area.
Austin was one of seven cities nationwide to receive the three-year U.S. Justice Department grants, which are aimed at revitalizing neighborhoods.
Dubbed Restore Rundberg, the plan will focus on a 6-square-mile area where less than 5 percent of Austin’s population sees 11 percent of the city’s violent crime and 7 percent of its property crime, according to police. Unemployment is as high as 14 percent in some spots, and 95 percent of the area’s students are considered economically disadvantaged, police said.
Most of the money will be spent on greater police presence, by paying officers overtime, and extra attention from city code enforcement officers, and on research by University of Texas sociologists, who plan to spend the next year surveying residents and holding neighborhood meetings to get a better understanding of the people and the problems.
“The Rundberg area has a huge opportunity for revitalization,” said police Cmdr. Mark Spangler, who will be the project manager for the grant. “We need new, outside-of-thebox thinking for significant (crime) reductions.”
Police Chief Art Acevedo kicked off Tuesday’s meeting with an informal survey, asking how many people feel that life is slowly and steadily improving in their neighborhood. Only a scattering of hands went up in the crowd.
Acevedo then urged the residents to put their energy into helping police and the UT researchers create a plan to make things better.
“This is your plan, this is your neighborhood, this is your community,” he said. “Too often when we do these things, we have momentum for a time, then ... we slip backward.”
Sitting at long cafeteria
tables, residents filled out index cards, listing the most significant crime problems in their neighborhood: Open-air drug dealing. Prostitutes roaming the streets. Unattended kids getting into trouble.
At one table, a woman compared notes with the people sitting next to her. “When I was doing getout-the-vote, there was one woman I talked to who was robbed twice,” she told her table mates.
Tammy Watson, a 47year-old registered nurse who recently moved to the area, said she’s hopeful the money will do some good. People in the area need jobs, addicts need help kicking their habit, kids need to feel they can have a bright future, she said.
“I’m hoping that (Restore Rundberg) is kind of an infectious thing, that once one person starts feeling positive, it will spread to other people,” Watson said.