After Hurricane Dolly struck the Texas coast in 2008, many unincorporated subdivisions along the U.S.-Mexico border (called "colonias") were left completely under water--some for weeks on end. Developers created the colonias more than fifty years ago, dividing agriculturally worthless land into small lots to sell to some of the country's poorest families.
Many colonias lack running water, paved streets and sewer systems. When Hurricane Dolly brought millions of dollars in federal disaster recovery funds to the State, it created an opportunity to address system-wide flooding problems in Texas colonias.
However, Hidalgo County in South Texas initially proposed a regional drainage improvement project that did not include these low-income neighborhoods.
Fortunately, Texas Appleseed--which has long advocated for including low- and moderate-income Texans in federally-funded disaster recovery efforts--partnered with the Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service, the Equal Voice Coalition in the Rio Grande Valley and colonia residents to make the colonias' needs heard. Organizations such as LUPE, ARISE, TOP, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and Proyecto Azteca attended public hearings, met with elected officials and documented flooding in the colonias and the impact on local residents.
Hidalgo County has now agreed to spend $14 million in federal disaster recovery funds to help improve drainage in the colonias.
"Including the colonias in disaster recovery planning and rebuilding is an issue of basic fairness, as well as compliance with federal laws," said Texas Appleseed Executive Director Rebecca Lightsey. "Colonia families deserve equal access to safe, decent neighborhoods that aren't underwater."
Betsy Cavendish, Appleseed's executive director, said, "It's pitiful that in a country as rich as ours we still have to struggle for basic sanitation and water systems that the Romans managed to build two thousand years ago."