Eight to ten years ago the colonias were subject to public attention and policy action. Funds were appropriated to provide water and sewer services, model subdivision standards were enacted to restrain the development of substandard colonias, legislation was passed to restrict exploitive contract for deed sales, state agencies worked to convert contracts for deeds into deeds of trust and provide more affordable financing, and housing funds began to flow into the colonias, especially through the Texas Bootstrap Owner Builder Loan Program.
Taken as a whole, these programs produced significant improvements in the lives of colonia residents. Yet they only begin to address the needs. The colonias remain arguably the most impoverished region in the United States with the worst living conditions.
Today colonias receive far too little attention despite serious ongoing problems, remaining deep-seated poverty and substandard living conditions.
For the past two legislative sessions organized efforts of large landowners and colonia developers sought to undo the model subdivision rules. Efforts to provide counties land-use control and the ability to enforce minimum construction standards in a manner not punitive to colonia residents were rejected. In their place the Legislature adopted this session a hastily written bill regarding home inspections which is liable to have widespread negative impacts on colonia residents.
The lack of attention to remaining colonia problems, the efforts by developers to roll back model subdivision standards and the enactment of county powers that will negatively affect colonia residents have occurred because our failure to effectively advocate and educate to legislators creative solutions to colonia problems.
Robert Doggett and I have done the best we could to derail affirmatively bad legislation or to blunt its impact. But frankly we are fighting a defensive battle and over the past two sessions have moved very few affirmative colonia issues forward either in the legislature or through the state bureaucracy.
This issue became critical to us this session when an organized group of colonia developers succeeded in gaining enough political support to come close to passing broad exemptions to the model subdivision rules. Now we face an interim in which the Legislature has directed that a committee will meet to propose a broad revision of the laws that govern the development of colonias.
During the 1990s the ad hoc border low income housing coalition played the critical role of bringing together public interest groups, government and colonia residents to identify colonia problems, advocate for solutions, and provide expertise in the deliberation of government bodies on colonia issues. Unfortunately, we have been unable to attract foundations with an interest in supporting the Border Low-Income Housing Coalition and its work. But we continue to look for this critical support.
Housing advocates, organizers, legal service attorneys and above all colonia grassroots leaders now must find a way to work on their own to advocate administratively and legislatively for the next set of initiatives to improve the quality of life for colonia residents.