Colonia residents deliver demand for new subdivision rules to Hidalgo County Commissioners via Christmas carol

MSR Carol at Hidalgo County Commissioners Court from Texas Housers on Vimeo.

The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court is considering updates to Model Subdivision Rules (MSRs) that regulate the development of new unincorporated neighborhoods in the county. Colonia residents want to start the new year with the new rules firmly in place. Yesterday members of La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) and A Resource in Serving Equality (ARISE) delivered this message by caroling a holiday jingle, urging the Hidalgo County Commissioners to approve the new MSR amendments.

While county officials have implemented the new rules informally, without official adoption of the amendments, the enforcement of these standards could be vulnerable if county leadership shifts in upcoming county elections.

Efforts by the Hidalgo County Planning Department to modify the rules was prompted by several storms in 2015 that flooded communities for weeks. Residents have pushed the county to enforce higher standards that include essential services like streetlight infrastructure, flood protection, better street paving and additional sidewalks. It was evident that systemic changes in development practices needed to occur and that the current rules protecting property owner’s rights to services like appropriate platting, connectivity to electricity, potable water and drainage standards needed to be updated to meet the growth of the region and to prevent repeating historic misdoings.

The creation of colonias for example, was in part due to the lack of regulations that led unscrupulous developers to target low-income, immigrant families who couldn’t afford to live in higher-cost housing in the cities but could afford a piece of land on the outskirts of the cities. This pushed families into ghettos outside of the city without proper services. Some of the biggest priorities for these historically segregated communities today continue to be basic amenities like adequate drainage and street lighting.

Hidalgo County is now responding to the pressure of colonia residents who live the consequences of flooding or darkness in their communities. The county is only in the second year of their public lighting program that was developed and implemented in large part with the help of grassroots organizations and the legislative changes they championed. Yet commissioners have lit less than 20 colonias of the more than a thousand in the county. In January 2016 the Drainage District was sued by hundreds of residents of North Alamo whose homes flooded due to commercial and residential development near their colonia.

Advocates recognize that fixing the problems of the past is not sustainable when new neighborhoods are being built without the same services. By assuring better standards in future subdivisions, the county can save funds that can be used to improve the conditions of historically segregated colonias. This could move the region closer toward being a place where opportunity is available to all.