Infrastructure and Housing Needs Assessment in California Colonias Communities

Place: California • Date: 2018-2023 • Partner: SCAG

Project Summary

In anticipation of substantial Federal commitments for investment in local infrastructure and housing improvements, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) has commissioned an Infrastructure Needs Assessment for each Colonia in Imperial County. This offers stakeholders a comprehensive and up-to-date inventory of housing and public infrastructure resources and services for each Colonia, identifying facility and service gaps that could be beneficially improved with targeted public investments.

HUD and USDA Rural Development both define Colonias as rural communities within the US-Mexico border region that lack adequate water, sewer, decent housing, or some combination of these. This definition is broader than the iconic image of a Colonia as a scattered rural homestead on inappropriately subdivided land, with housing made of salvaged materials and no utilities. The siting of Colonias is also quite diverse in jurisdictional terms – some are incorporated communities under the control of a city, while some are unincorporated under control of the county.

In Imperial County, there are 15 recognized Colonias  spread across both incorporated and unincorporated areas. In incorporated areas, there are Colonias in four cities that represent a small fraction of the city and have adequate water and sewers but typically lack sufficient housing. Colonias are often not different from other low-income or marginalized communities within the cities, but they can benefit from the HUD designation as it makes them eligible for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Colonias Set-Aside funding.  The Colonias located in incorporated areas are in Brawley, Calexico, El Centro, and the City of Imperial.

In unincorporated areas, the remaining 9 Colonias can largely be described as depopulating former resort communities or majority-Hispanic communities.  These communities are rural and often quite isolated. Most Colonia communities lack civic institutions such as schools or physician offices. Infrastructure is largely outdated, near capacity, or completely lacking. The housing stock is typically poor, categorized as vacant homes or houses in disrepair. Many residents live in mobile homes or RVs. The Colonias located in unincorporated areas are Bombay Beach, Heber, Niland, Ocotillo, Palo Verde, Poe, Salton Sea Beach, Seeley, and Winterhaven.

This project has developed detailed housing and infrastructure profiles for each Colonia, summarized below but in much greater spatial and other detail in other project documentation. Each profile contains information on demographics, housing, and infrastructure and provides stakeholders with necessary resources on Imperial Valley Colonias. As the profiles demonstrate, there is significant heterogeneity across Colonias. While some Colonias lack basic services and infrastructure with declining populations, others have improved conditions and are slated for potential housing growth at the county and city level.



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