In the 1950s and 1960s, developers came to remote areas of border towns in Texas and scooped up large plots of land. They turned them into unincorporated subdivisions, which no authority can implement building codes. These developers then sold the land to local immigrants, promising access to water and sewage lines would come later - but they never did.
In a piece for CityLab, writer Alana Samuels details the conditions of these communities--called colonias--more than 50 years later. With the developers long gone, there's an argument as to who's responsible for bringing these places up to local county codes and installing water and sewage lines. Some argue it's the landowners' problem if they wanted to build a house without access to local utilities.
More than 40 percent of colonia residents live below the poverty line, according to a 2015 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The median household income in colonias is less than $30,000 per year. And the conditions in the colonias are troubling. There are water and mosquito-borne illnesses, high rates of asthma, lice, and rashes. One doctor told the Texas Tribune that rates of tuberculosis in the colonias are two times the state average and that there is a lingering presence of leprosy.
Local, state, and federal regulators are trying to help cut the costs of getting Texas utilities to run lines out to these homes, but they're running into a problem where the homes can't be considered homes because they weren't built to any code requirements.