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Las Colonias in the 21st Century

Focus Area: Infrastructure

The quality of infrastructure in the Texas colonias can vary widely. Garden hoses and extension cords often stretch from one trailer home to another. It is common to see wooden planks propped over the flood-prone ground as pathways. About 20 percent of these colonias still lack basic infrastructure, such as safe drinking water. However, there have been significant improvements since 2006.

A small, home-constructed pipeline connecting this home to the subdivision’s water line

Construction of sewer pipelines to connect local businesses and homes to adequate water and sewer services in a Cameron County colonia


Between 2006 and 2014, the state of Texas invested millions of dollars in infrastructure projects in the six counties highlighted in the Dallas Fed report. Since 2006, almost 290 formerly underdeveloped colonias have acquired basic infrastructure, such as paved roads, water systems and solid waste disposal. The chart and table below show progress made in recent years.

Infrastructure Improving in Border Colonias
NOTE: This chart represents data for only six counties: Cameron, El Paso, Hidalgo, Maverick, Starr and Webb counties. See Table 2 for meaning of color classification.
DATA SOURCE: Colonia Initiatives Program Progress Legislative Reports, Texas Office of the Secretary of State.
Texas Colonia Classification System
Drinkable water
Wastewater disposal
Legal plats
Paved roads
Adequate drainage
Solid waste disposal
DATA SOURCE: Senate Bill 99: “Tracking the Progress of State Funded Programs that Benefit Colonias.” Prepared by the Colonia Initiatives Program, Texas Office of the Secretary of State, 2010.


Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB) and bcWORKSHOP are leading organizations in innovation, transformation and sustainability. CDCB (featured in the Housing section of the report) is an affordable housing organization serving the colonias. bcWORKSHOP, featured with CDCB at the colonias conference in McAllen in July 2015, is a nonprofit community design firm seeking to improve the livability and viability of communities through the practice of thoughtful design.

A colonia family helps in the planning of their home. Photo credit: bcWORKSHOP.

These two institutions have been able to combine their expertise and work together to deliver projects that are shifting approaches to improve infrastructure. They are also leaders in affordable housing, and rather than examining these issues separately, they look holistically at the relationship between them. Jesse Miller, director of bcWORKSHOP Rio Grande Valley, stresses the importance of working with colonia residents in the design of their home. He provides an example of an infrastructure project that failed to consult colonia residents on how water flows after a rain in their neighborhood. As a result, the drainage ditch was built in the wrong place, the money was spent and the flooding issue was not solved. bcWORKSHOP also works with families to design their landscaping to prevent flooding.

CDCB’s and bcWORKSHOP’s partnerships in the community are broad and include organizations such as La Unión del Pueblo Entero, ARISE, Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service and the Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center–Texas A&M University.

The latest collaboration between CDCB and bcWORKSHOP is RAPIDO (which means “fast” in Spanish), a project that is redefining disaster recovery. RAPIDO homes are designed to get those affected by disasters into homes quickly, which avoids the expense of temporary Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer homes. The RAPIDO team designed and built 21 prototype homes for families affected by Hurricane Dolly and the flooding of 2008. The goal is to implement and expand RAPIDO across the state of Texas. This partnership is another example of how these organizations address issues in housing and infrastructure together.

RAPIDO homes are personalized by the families who will reside in them and designed based on their needs, preferences and ingenuity. The projects have two phases, CORE and Expanded Home. RAPIDO is developing a unique strategy for the transition of families from the temporary unit (CORE) to their permanent house (Expanded Home). CDCB and bcWORKSHOP learned from colonia residents’ approach to housing—building their homes in phases, over time, as their budgets allow.

A CORE RAPIDO home. Photo credit: bcWORKSHOP.

An Expanded RAPIDO home. Photo credit: bcWORKSHOP.

Notably, RAPIDO was awarded first place in the social impact category of the Place by Design competition at SXSW Eco 2015.