Texas Observer – Seeing the Light

Hundreds of people in border colonias are finally receiving electricity, running water and sewer service after decades without these basic utilities.

The relief comes after the Texas Legislature lifted a little-known prohibition on utilities for certain residents of colonias—makeshift communities with some of the highest poverty rates in the nation. Some 400,000 people live in Texas colonias, mostly along the border from El Paso to Brownsville, though only a small fraction of them suffered under the prohibition.

In the 1990s, the Legislature pushed through reforms aimed at stopping the proliferation of colonias. The effort succeeded in slowing their growth and provided funding that brought sewer service and water to many communities. But in their zealousness to halt new colonias, lawmakers also made life unnecessarily hard for some residents. One facet of the law—modified in the 2009 legislative session—effectively barred people from connecting to the electric grid or being eligible for water and sewer service. The law mandated that communities couldn’t receive these services unless their property was platted—a process that legally defines a property’s boundaries.

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