Rio Grande Valley site of first-ever Colonias Summit

S.TX-rioGrandeGuardian1

By Steve Taylor
Rio Grande Guardian

HARLINGEN — State Sen. Eddie Lucio says he will hold a public hearing in Austin in the coming weeks to focus on the issues raised at last Friday’s first-ever Colonias Summit.

“I am on a high following this summit,” Lucio said. “We heard moving testimony from colonia residents who want to better themselves, who want to work, who want good paying jobs and who want better education so that the lives of their children can be elevated.”

Lucio, D-Brownsville, said the information gathered at the summit, which was held at TSTC-Harlingen, will help he and his staff draft legislation for the next legislative session, which starts in Austin next January. He said he will be proposing a constitutional amendment to trigger a bond issue to raise money to improve the roads leading to colonias and within colonia communities.

“We need another good bond program for roads. The first one we had brought in $175 million but that has all gone. The monies would go to where the need is greatest,” Lucio said. He pointed out that of the $175 million $90 million was allocated to the Rio Grande Valley.

Lucio said he would also like to find more money for his much-cherished Texas Bootstrap Loan Program, which, administered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, assists low-income families build their own homes. The families must put in “sweat equity” in order to build the home. The money is borrowed at a low interest rate and paid back over a long period.

“The Bootstrap Program is an excellent program but not enough money has been placed into it. I would like to have at least $15 million or $20 million available,” Lucio said. “Over 1,000 homes have been completed but the need is in the tens of thousands. We have over 175,000 people that live in colonias. When they own better homes they contribute more in taxes. They become contributing members of society.”

Lucio told the Guardian that over 80 percent of his constituents live at or below the poverty line. He said that percentage is even greater in public schools in the Valley.

Many of the community groups that represent low income families were present at the Colonias Summit, including the RGV Equal Voice Network, which includes ten non-profits across the Valley that work in colonias. The event drew more than 100 colonia residents.

Among the governmental bodies represented at the Colonias Summit were the Texas Workforce Commission, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, the Texas Water Development Board, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas A&M Colonia Center, the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Center for Economic Development in the Secretary of State’s Office, the General Land Office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Corps of Engineers and NADBank.

Lucio appeared tearful when he heard Harlingen resident Yolanda Shoffeitt refer to the Valley as the “Valley of Tears.” He said…

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