Las colonias de la frontera: A study of substandard housing settlements along the Texas-Mexico border




Martinez, Frank, III

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Colonias are communities that, historically, have been characterized by inadequate housing, inadequate physical infrastructure, and, as a result, numerous public health issues. This dissertation is a study of colonias situated in six Texas-Mexico border counties; namely, Cameron County, El Paso County, Hidalgo County, Maverick County, Starr County, and Webb County.

Owing to historically high Mexican immigration rates and high Latino fertility rates, the populations of these communities are characterized by high proportions of Latinos. Also, the populations in colonias appear to be younger than the overall population of the State of Texas; perhaps, owing to historically high Latino fertility rates. Colonia household sizes tend to be larger in colonias than those in the rest of Texas with a generally greater prevalence of female-headed households. Poverty rates tend to be greater in colonias versus Texas overall and educational attainment levels are lower in the colonias under study compared to the remainder of Texas. Also, populations in the colonias tend to be bilingual.

The quality of housing in colonias has seen some improvement since 1995, when the State of Texas initially took legislative action. Housing construction soared from 1990 to 2009 with roughly half of the current housing stock being constructed during that time period. Colonia residents show a greater preference for homeownership over renting. Housing affordability is important to colonia residents as indicated by the generally lower home values observed in colonias. Furthermore, housing costs pose as a greater financial burden for colonia residents versus Texas overall.

Finally, the comparative analysis of various socioeconomic characteristics in colonias with lower levels of housing quality and higher poverty rates versus colonias with higher levels of housing quality and lower poverty rates yielded the following implications for public policy aimed at improving living conditions within colonias. Policies encouraging the formation of stable families and the provision of assistance to female-headed households should be implemented. Policymakers within the border region should institute policies that facilitate higher educational attainment levels and raise English proficiency levels within the colonias. Additionally, policymakers should consider actions that could lead to greater participation of community members in the construction of housing in colonias. Lastly, the analysis suggests that colonia residents would benefit greatly from policies supporting job creation as the analysis suggests that civilian employment levels are lower in colonias versus those in the rest of Texas.


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Colonias, Mexican Immigration, Poverty, Substandard Housing, Texas-Mexico Border