AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s a project that has made big changes in an Austin neighborhood troubled by crime. Now, the Restore Rundberg Revitalization Project is facing a tough question after federal grant money ran out: What now?
In 2013, the project, alongside the Austin Police Department, received a three-year, $1 million Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant from the Department of Justice. The mission of the project was “to improve the quality of life, health, safety, education, and well-being of individuals living and working in the Rundberg neighborhood.”
Since then, the six square mile Restore Rundberg project included police walking patrols and building relationships with people in the area. HALO crime cameras went up, Code Compliance cracked down on trash and the city even purchased land for a park. What started as five volunteers grew to 15.
On Sept. 30, the grant money ran out, leaving groups and community volunteers in a state of limbo. “The Rundberg area is beautiful and diverse. It’s also low income. Working poor. They want to get by day to day they want to feel safe in their home and their community,” said Monica Guzmán, the Restore Rundberg Revitalization rep. for the North Lamar/Georgian Acres Neighborhood Planning Area. “You cannot change an entire community in three years.”
It wasn’t enough time to fix one of Rundberg’s and Austin’s biggest problems — affordable housing.
“We need to find a way to get property owners who own rental property to maintain those houses, to address any existing code violations to make it a safe and healthy place for the tenants. But also to maintain affordability. Deep affordability,” Guzmán said.
But the project did help in other ways, especially when it comes to crime in the area. According to research by the University of Texas, arrests for violent crime in the Rundberg corridor are down nearly 4.5 percent since 2012.
“We still have hot spots in other areas and those are being addressed but it wasn’t just pushed away into a new area. The entire grant area had a reduction in crime,” said Austin Police Officer Rafael Kianes.
When the grant stopped, so did some of the police resources like the “walking beats” where officers would get out of their patrol cars and go into the community, door-to-door, to meet the people who live there.
So what’s next? Organizers say it’s all about reliance on the community. “When the community is present, it keeps crime at bay,” Guzmán said. “The outreach never ends. Whether we decided to continue as a team or not, the outreach never ends.”
The revitalization group will still have monthly meetings and will focus on changing its bylaws now that APD will no longer have someone who functions as a project manager.
Grant funding from the Department of Justice is not renewable. The Restore Rundberg group asked City Council to create a full-time community engagement coordinator for the area. That was denied. Now, they are hoping Council Member Greg Casar — who oversees that district — can find someone at the city to at least maintain the Restore Rundberg website.