Colonia improvements still leave the poor in deplorable housing

Colonias in the Rio Grande Valley are home to some of the poorest Texans. Governmental efforts to improve living conditions in colonias has mostly been limited to two programs: providing water, sewer and roads to more than half of the colonias and forcing land developers to adhere to “model subdivision rules.”

Model subdivision rules require developers of new subdivisions along the Texas-Mexico border to either provide water, sewer, roads and utilities or post a bond guaranteeing to do so when the lots are sold. The result is that most new colonias are built with this basic infrastructure.

But the problem of the poverty of many colonia residents and their housing conditions is not being addressed.

The Bent Tree Subdivision (where I saw no trees, either bent or straight) in Cameron County offers an illustration. While touring colonias in the Rio Grande Valley this week ,I came across this new subdivision and took the photos in the slide show below.

A lot in the subdivision costs $15,900. There are paved roads with curbs, water, electricity and sewer or septic tanks. That puts residents of Bent Tree ahead of many other Rio Grande Valley colonia residents.

But the conditions of the houses, or in most cases, trailers, is extremely bad.

Cameron County claims to be one of the few counties in Texas with the power to enforce building codes. From the appearance of the condition of the trailers in the Bent Tree Subdivision, health and safety codes are  not being enforced here.

The question of whether to impose building standards and safety codes on residential dwellings outside of cities divides Texas housing advocates. Many say it would be unwise to limit the only housing options that the poor have . Others cite the dangerous conditions that exist and ask how can our society stand back and let children live in such conditions.

That we actually have to have this discussion is absurd. The choice of driving the poor out of their substandard homes through code enforcement or continuing to allow people to live in deplorable conditions is forced upon us by the complete failure of our society in Texas to offer decent housing options to the poor.

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