Colonias in Texas
This article provides answers to common questions about colonias in Texas: specifically, where they are found, their development, and current conditions. This article is adapted from material by the Texas Secretary of State.
Colonias can be found in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, but Texas has both the largest number of colonias and the largest colonia population. Approximately 400,000 Texans live in colonias. Overall, the colonia population is predominately Hispanic; 64.4 percent of all colonia residents and 85 percent of those residents under 18 were born in the United States. There are more than 2,294 Texas colonias, located primarily along the state's 1,248-mile border with Mexico.
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.
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.
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 service 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.