To start the new Austin Code volunteer program, the Austin Code Department took a look at what other successful code enforcement volunteer programs were doing around the country.
“Code volunteer programs tend to do one of two things, report code violations and assist in case completion, or serve as abatement squads to do things such as participate in cleanups and remove graffiti,” said Volunteer Coordinator Jeff Libby.
Either one can provide a very worthwhile mission for a new volunteer organization to undertake. The Austin Code Department decided on more of a hybrid approach for the Austin Code Community Volunteers.
The first step in the program recruitment was to host a series of orientation/meet and greet sessions to get to know prospective volunteers, start the application and intake process, and hear about the challenges they’re experiencing in their neighborhoods. ACD hosted 32 prospective volunteers at these sessions, and gained invaluable feedback along the way.
“One attendee spoke about the problems he was having in his neighborhood with trash and recycling carts being left out at the curb after collection day,” said Libby. He was told about the targeted education campaigns that the Austin Code Department has conducted in neighborhoods with similar problems and how the Austin Code Community Volunteers could conduct an education campaign in his neighborhood.
Another volunteer talked about an elderly resident in his neighborhood who was having trouble keeping up her property and maintaining the minimum standard of the code. He was provided with information on a number of resources available to help people who find themselves in this type of situation.
This discussion led to dialogue about the Austin Code Community Volunteers helping residents who are having trouble gaining compliance due to physical and/or financial limitations by assisting with minor maintenance or property abatements.
Through interaction with volunteers, the hybrid mission and approach fully emerged. First and foremost, the Austin Code Community Volunteer is a neighborhood liaison to the Austin Code Department. All volunteers will get to know who the Code Officers are who patrol their districts and, hopefully, develop a good rapport and working relationship with them.
The focus of the training and handouts provided to the volunteers who complete all requirements of the program, is to equip them with information so that they, in turn, can impart that knowledge to their neighbors.
ACD hopes to partner with Public Works through their Neighborhood Partnering Program which assists neighborhood groups in developing, resourcing, and executing small- to medium-sized improvement projects on City-owned property, such as the creation of a community garden or improvements to a neighborhood park.
“As recruitment and training efforts continue, the Austin Code Department is excited to see the many positive impacts the Austin Code Community Volunteers will achieve as the program gets up to full speed,” said Libby.
(To learn more about the volunteer program or to become a volunteer, contact Volunteer Coordinator Jeff Libby @ CCVP@austintexas.gov or 512-974-3497.)