North Austin Civic Association

July, 2008

ABC Campaign an Eye-Opening Experience

Back in May, 2008, Anthony Willliams, Brian and Gina Almon, Linda Moore, Matt Myers, and others from NACA began a campaign to help the residents of Rutland Drive improve and beautify their neighborhood.

The campaign was geared toward getting the residents of the area, mostly renters and many of them immigrants, to better maintain their residences by clearing it of trash, complying with the lawn parking ordinance, and engaging in more community oriented activities such as cleanup walks, cookouts and exercise programs.

Now, toward the end of August, the campaign is coming to a close with an eye-opening mixture of encouraging successes and troubling reality checks.

~by Keith Huntsman

Rutland's History

When the area was first built up during the '70s and '80s, the duplexes and fourplexes along the stretch of Rutland west of Quail Creek Park were mostly owner occupied and well maintained. Unfortunately, the area gradually became a magnet for bad elements displaced by cleanup campaigns in other parts of the city, notably South Congress.

As the criminal element was forced north of the river and burglaries, drugs, prostitution and violent crime began to rise in the newer area, the owners of the multi-family properties began selling out to investors who had no stake in maintaining the livability of the neighborhood. So, while the sections on the north side of Rutland remained largely well-maintained single-family residences, the south side of Rutland between Grouse Meadow and the northward curve became mostly eyesore rentals. Litter and trash, unkempt yards and cars parked on the lawn became common, and the habitability of the structures deteriorated rapidly.

[Renters: Know your Rights! A letter from Anthony Williams]
Enter NACA

In recent years, NACA has made a concerted effort to clean up such blemishes. We have periodic neighborhood cleanups, bulky trash pickups, code enforcement including property upkeep and safety, and enforcement of the lawn parking ordinance. (See what you can do.) But we continue to find roadblocks, many of which the ABC Campaign was designed to knock down.

The ABC Campaign kicked off July 10, with the City of Austin Code Enforcement and APD offering free barbecue at Quail Village Shopping Center, where lessons in code enforcement were passed out with the food. A bulky trash pickup by our primary source of beautification grants, Allied Waste (BFI), was also completed that day.

Through the years APD has emphasized, especially during activities such as the Night Without Crime marches, that law enforcement's first concern is for the safety of all residents, wherever from. (Many recent crimes, including a murder, have been solved because some got the message and had the courage to step forward.) Turnout at the barbecue was light, however, largely because many of the affected residents are illegal immigrants and feared exposure.

There was greater success later that evening, when Anthony Williams brought Catholic Charities and Austin Tenants' Council speakers to Wooldridge Elementary School to assist renters in an evening of education and friendship. Turnout included not only residents but property owners as well.
Ups and Downs

Since then, we've had some success in improving the appearance of the neighborhood. Anthony Williams and Geth Rodgers are picking up trash once a week, demonstrating how improved a cared-for neighborhood can look. The Lawn Parking ordinance is also being better enforced, largely through the efforts of an enterprising resident who continuously provides detailed reports on violators. The Citation process is being used with telling effect.

Unfortunately, there have been casualties in the effort, thanks to the antagonism received from unscrupulous owners and landlords who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. One infuriating example involves the only renter in the immediate area who stepped forward to help us, even becoming a dues-paying member of NACA. She was evicted for it. (Read her story here.)
Pressing Forward

But NACA perseveres. Improved maintenance of the rental properties is the primary goal. To that end, Anthony Williams and others, with the active assistance of APD, have gone door to door for a "knock and talk" with residents to inform them of code and parking ordinances and the consequences of ignoring them. Reaching out to new residents will also be a priority in the months to come.

To address the dilapidated condition of many of the fourplexes in the neighborhood and the contentious tenant/landlord relationships, NACA plans to write to the Austin Tenants' Council and request investigation. We intend to be the voice of all residents of NACA, wherever from and however disenfranchised.

NACA is also considering designing a NO LAWN PARKING sign similar to the Neighborhood Watch sign, which could be attached to the back of city traffic signs. Since this relates to neighborhood beautification, we could use the grants we receive from Allied Waste for the production and installation of the signs.

And some residents are responding. Several homes on Rutland have planted flowers or shrubs. Capital Metro has also pitched in, thanks to Anthony's efforts, by adding trash cans to Rutland bus stops near Mountain Quail.

To celebrate our successes, Brian and Gina Almon recently strolled down Rutland and raised American flags, donated by Linda Moore, in front of compliant duplexes on or near Rutland as a way of saying "thank you." Later his year NACA has plans for more neighborhood get-togethers similar to the Night Out campaigns to generate even more enthusiasm.

Last and finest, we need to deeply thank APD's representatives in our area, including District Rep Kay Vargas, Officers Lee Davis and Mike Youngs, and the other officers of North Central Command, for their help and support. Their enthusiasm and determination matches our own, as evidenced by their willingness to pitch in at neighborhood gatherings, NACA meetings, code, graffiti and parking enforcement, and anti-crime rallies. APD will also be involved in 2008's National Night Out planned for October 7.
This story will continue.