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Texas Border and Mexican Affairs

What is a Colonia?

Texas Secretary of State's Definition:

The term "colonia," in Spanish means a community or neighborhood. The Office of the Secretary of State defines a "colonia" as a residential area along the Texas-Mexico border that may lack some of the most basic living necessities, such as potable water and sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, and safe and sanitary housing.

Why are there so many definitions of a "colonia"?

Agency definitions will vary due to funding requirements. The differences among its applied definitions are attributed to the varying emphases placed on its specific characteristics by government agencies and codes. Consequently, the characteristics that define a colonia differ according to the type of agency, government code or issue being addressed at any given time.

Below is a list of colonia definitions as provided by various government codes. These government and water codes outline both a geographic and economic definition of a colonia, as well as the purpose for such definitions.

Government Code Definitions

Section 775.001 (2)
Geographic Located in a county in which any part of that county is within 50 miles of the border
Economic Economically distressed area as defined by Water Code Section 17.921
Purpose Coordination of colonia initiatives (colonia initiatives coordinator and colonia ombudspersons program)


Section 2306.581 (1)
Geographic Located in a county in which any part of that county is within 150 miles of the border
Economic

Families of low income or very low income as defined by:

  • Federal poverty index AND
  • Meets the qualifications of an economically distressed area from Water Code 17.921
Purpose Establishment of colonia self-help centers to assist in the financing and construction of safe and suitable housing.


Section 15.001 (12) - Nonborder Colonia
Geographic Located in an unincorporated area of a county AND all parts of that county are at least 150 miles from the border.
Economic

Water or wastewater services are inadequate AND average household income is less than the average household income in that county.

Purpose Permit coordination of water/wastewater outreach efforts by the colonia initiatives coordinator.


Section 43.907 (a) - Colonia
Geographic none
Economic

Families of low income or very low income as defined by the Local Government Code Sections 2306.004 (16) and (17) AND that meets the qualifications of an economically distressed area from Water Code Section 17.921

Purpose To allow continued eligibility for colonia assistance for five years after annexation by municipality.

Water Code Definitions

Section 15.001 (12) - Nonborder Colonia
Geographic Located in an unincorporated area of a county AND all parts of that county are at least 150 miles from the border.
Economic

Water or wastewater services are inadequate AND average household income is less than the average household income in that county.

Purpose Permit coordination of water/wastewater outreach efforts by the colonia initiatives coordinator.


Section 15.951 (2) - Colonia
Geographic Located in a county in which any part of that county is within 50 miles of the border.
Economic

Economically distressed area as defined by Water Code Section 17.921

Purpose Colonia self-help program for water and wastewater services.

What is a "border county"?

In accordance with Senate Bill 1421 of the 76th Regular Legislative Session, the Office of the Secretary of State uses the term "border county" to address those areas that are within 50 miles of the Texas-Mexico border, an area where most of the state's colonias exist. These counties are considered "economically distressed areas" that must enforce the model subdivision rules (i.e. model water and wastewater systems) and, with the help of state funding, initiate similar projects in the colonias within their boundaries. The 50-mile zone includes 32 border counties and according to the 2003 Texas Water Development Board Needs Assessment approximately 2,294 colonias.

The State of Texas, however, has not formally adopted a specific definition of a "border county." Therefore, the applied definition of a "border county" is interpreted differently within the various government agencies and organizations in order to address a certain issue.

State and Federal Agency Definitions of a "Border County"
U.S.D.A. Rural Development 150-mile border region for colonia funding.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development

150-mile border region for colonia funding.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 100-kilometer (62 miles) border region for all border-related funding.
Texas Water Development Board 100-kilometer border region if using U.S. EPA funding and a 50 mile zone if utilizing state appropriated funds.*
Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs 150-mile border region due to funding from U.S. Housing and Urban Development.
Office of Rural and Community Affairs 150-mile border region due to funding from U.S. Housing and Urban Development.

*Colonia funding originates from the Economically Distressed Areas Program (EDAP) which is a statewide program despite the vast majority being utilized in the 100-kilometer zone.