Home > colonias, environmental justice, health, US-Mexico border > Texas Colonias: Red Tape or Politics as Barrier to Decent Housing?

Texas Colonias: Red Tape or Politics as Barrier to Decent Housing?

Last summer The Texas Tribune published a two-part series on Texas colonias. The first article addresses the efforts and problems with securing habitable dwellings for residents (Red-Tape, Catch-22 Impede Progress). The second article (Conditions, Health Risks Sicken Colonias Residents) paints a striking picture of colonias residents and their life-world. I would only have added that when you enter Mexico Chiquito, the community cited in the article, you are welcomed by a severe sulfur smell that, for the first-time visitor, may cause your eyes to water…but that is another post.

As I finished reading the two articles, I am left unsatisfied. The article relied on the narrative that poor housing and substandard infrastructure are a result of individual actors, “unscrupulous developers,” usurious lenders, and other malcontents ready to prey on poor farm workers. Tone and word choice rendered residents as naturally poor, eliding their existence to the anachronistic “Third World.” The author stopped there, failing to grasp the complex historical and geographical processes that produced colonias in south Texas. The author did not address how chronic low-wage employment, wage supresion, and limited educational opportunities cause poverty. The author did not explain that many rural and peri-urban subdivisions exist outside municipalities because cities actively avoided incorporation of colonias. The author did not recount that colonias residents lost their right to vote and, therefore lost their opportunity for water and sanitation service, when state legislators allowed local elites to gerrymander their neighborhoods out of water control and improvement districts. The articles did not describe how government officials failed to either pass or enforce land development regulations, thus contributing to the growth of under-served communities. So, attention to red-tape and bureaucracy as major barriers to decent housing strikes me as superficial and misplaced.

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