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July 24, 2001
MARTINEZ BRINGS FAITH-BASED MESSAGE, GREATER FEDERAL COMMITMENT TO TEXAS, NEW MEXICO COLONIAS
EL PASO, TEXAS - While touring impoverished communities in Texas and New Mexico, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez today said the Bush Administration is determined to improve housing conditions for families living in colonias.
Martinez is the first Bush cabinet member to visit the colonias. Martinez also announced a $500,000 grant to provide water and sewer service to thousands of families living in Anthony Colonias in New Mexico. More than 6,000 households have no running water and sewer hookups in this border community.
"I am here today to listen, learn and bring some small measure of hope," said Martinez. "I will not forget the commitments we make here today and I will be back to ensure they are being kept."
The grant will also support a community technology center to help train workers who have lost their jobs because local manufacturing relocated. Situated some 20 miles from El Paso, residents of Anthony will now be able to access low-interest loans to support housing and utility hook-ups, providing them running water and sewer service.
Martinez also announced that 500 computers will be delivered to nonprofit organizations along the U.S-Mexico border. The computers will provide very low-income colonias families with Internet access, and will help support job training activities in several community technology centers in the region.
HUD is also assisting the Sisters of Charity to build affordable homes for residents in Tierra Madre Colonias, New Mexico. Using traditional building techniques and materials, HUD and this faith-based organization are expanding homeownership opportunities for residents who had very little hope of ever owning their own home.
"The President has vowed to strengthen federal ties to faith-based organizations," Martinez said. "And the Sisters of Charity is exactly what President Bush means when he points to faith that works. In partnership, we will breathe new life into these settlements. Government ought to be doing all it can to support faith-based organizations like Sisters of Charity, which is in the best position to provide critical services to the community."
Earlier this year President Bush created the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and directed five government agencies, including HUD, to establish their own respective offices to identify and eliminate regulatory, contracting and other obstacles to the participation of faith-based groups in the delivery of social services.
Through the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP), a program whose fiscal year 2002 funding the President proposes to triple from $22 million to $66 million, HUD is assisting Sisters of Charity to build so-called "straw bale homes." This indigenous building method offers easy-to-construct, energy-efficient affordable housing that is more resistant to fire and wind than most wood-framed homes. Future homeowners help provide the labor to construct the homes, making this faith-based enterprise truly a community enterprise.
Last month, HUD also announced two pilot projects in Texas to provide colonias residents additional homeownership opportunities through Individual Development Accounts. These IDAs match a family's savings in much the same way as Individual Retirement Accounts. Martinez visited Las Palmeras Colonias, New Mexico, where IDAs are already helping families to save toward homeownership, education or starting a new business.
Colonias are clusters extremely impoverished settlements in agriculturally valueless land that flourish along the Texas-Mexico border, though colonias can also be found in New Mexico, Arizona and California. Texas has some 1,400 colonias in which nearly 400,000 mostly Hispanic people live. Some 64.4 percent of all residents and 85 percent of those under 18 were born in the U.S.
The typical colonias is an unincorporated subdivision in which unsafe and non-sanitary housing, unpaved roads, inadequate sewage disposal systems and untreated water - if water is even available - are the norm. Cities are hesitant to annex colonias because city residents do not want to share the financial burden of providing services to the residents. Developers divide the land into small lots, put in little or no infrastructure, and then sell them to low-income individuals seeking affordable housing. People often buy the lots through a contract for deed, a property financing method whereby developers typically offer a low down payment and low monthly payments but no title to the property until the final payment is made.