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Colonias in Texas

Individual Rights

This article provides answers to common questions about colonias in Texas.

Learn more about colonias in Texas. Colonias are housing developments located along the Texas-Mexico border. Residents of colonias often lack basic services such as drinking water, sewage treatment, and paved roads.

This article is adapted from material by the Attorney General of Texas.

Where are colonias found?

In Texas there are over 1,800 colonia areas in 29 border area counties. Visit this map of Texas Colonia Communities. 

How were colonias developed?

The development of Texas colonias dates back to at least the 1950s. Using agriculturally worthless land—land that lay in floodplains or other rural properties—developers created unincorporated subdivisions. They divided the land into small lots, put in little or no infrastructure, then sold them to low-income individuals seeking affordable housing. 

Colonia residents generally have very low incomes. Per capita annual income for all Texas counties bordering Mexico—where most of the colonias are located—ends to be much lower than the state average of $16,717. In border counties such as Starr, Maverick, and Hidalgo, per capita annual incomes in 1994 were $5,559, $7,631, and $8,899, respectively. 

More Frequently Asked Questions about Colonias can be found on the website of the Texas Secretary of State

Why do people buy land in colonias?

A limited supply of adequate, affordable housing in cities and rural areas along the Texas- Mexico border—coupled with the rising need for such housing—has contributed to the development of new colonias and the expansion of existing ones. 

People with low incomes often buy the lots through a contract for deed, a property financing method whereby developers typically offer a low down payment and low monthly payments but no title to the property until the final payment is made. Houses in colonias are generally constructed in phases by their owners and may lack electricity, plumbing, and other basic amenities. Colonia residents build homes as they can afford materials. 

More Frequently Asked Questions about Colonias can be found on the website of the Texas Secretary of State

Why isn’t more done to improve conditions in the colonias?

The colonias' growth has challenged residents, as well as county, state and federal governments, and others, to seek ways to provide basic water and sewer services and to improve the quality of life in the colonias. Local public funds and other resources are often limited and unable to provide services to the current and growing colonia population. Hidalgo County, which has the most colonias and the largest number of colonia residents in Texas, is typical of many border counties. For basic health and human services, environmental services and capital improvements, colonia residents must rely on an often confusing combination of local, state, and federal programs, many of which come and go, depending on the political and economic climate. 

What is Texas doing to remedy the conditions in colonias and to prevent new colonias?

The state of Texas has refined laws in the past 15 years and given the office of the Attorney General enforcement responsibilities under these laws.  More information on colonias prevention can be found on the Attorney General website. 

More Frequently Asked Questions about Colonias can be found on the website of the Texas Secretary of State

A list of Colonia Self-Help Centers can be found on the website of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs

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