Skip to content

Las Colonias in the 21st Century

Focus Area: Housing

Homes in Texas colonias range in quality from substandard to well-built—from hybrid dwellings combining RVs or trailer homes with wooden or cinder block additions, to brick or stucco homes built on cement foundations.

A hybrid home in Hidalgo County

A major housing issue for colonia residents is affordability. Recent infrastructure improvements have dramatically increased the cost of lots. If a family is able to purchase a lot, they may not have sufficient funds remaining to spend on home construction and utilities, which can lead to costly renovations to stay up to code or fines. It’s not uncommon for extended families to live together or to build modest homes on the same lot to share expenses. Small-business owners in colonias often base their businesses in the front rooms of their houses or on their lots to reduce costs.

According to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), the homeownership rate in Texas colonias is 77 percent, as compared to the state average of 64.8 percent. Colonia homes provide a means to secure a brighter future and long-term stability, sometimes becoming an asset for future generations.

TDHCA Bootstrap Program home, completed by AYUDA in El Paso County

Since traditional loans may be difficult to obtain, residents often build their homes in stages, adding as their budgets allow.

A small business operated from a colonia resident’s home lot

While homeownership can serve as a financial asset-building opportunity, this is not always the case for colonia residents. Because land purchases are typically self-financed through contracts for deed (CFDs), the buyer does not gain immediate equity in the property. CFDs are compared to rent-to-own contracts where the buyer doesn’t gain equity until the final payment is made and the title is transferred. Colonia residents continue to rely on CFDs instead of traditional purchase contracts because they may not qualify for a mortgage or may not have a relationship with a bank or credit union.

The need for safe, affordable housing currently exceeds the capacity of housing organizations to build due primarily to lack of capital. A major challenge in colonia housing markets is finding financial institutions willing to lend and county governments willing to get involved.


Residents working on an LVHC home in El Paso County

Despite these continued challenges, some developers have been successful in increasing affordable housing. For example, the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB) offers a range of services, including mortgage loan servicing, housing education, down payment assistance and colonias redevelopment. From 1994 to 2013, the organization produced 3,565 single- and multifamily housing units for low-income families in colonias. The Lower Valley Housing Corporation (LVHC) provides affordable housing and services to working families in El Paso County. Since 1990, LVHC has rehabilitated 98 houses and produced 48 apartment units, 304 new houses and 850 self-help houses.

CDCB and LVHC are seen as leaders for their successes in the Texas border colonias’ community development industry. Other community development housing organizations serving colonias along the border include: AYUDA, Proyecto Azteca, El Paso Collaborative, Architecture for Charity and Habitat for Humanity.