Building equity in the Lower Rio Grande Valley is a critical part of many of our projects. Together with our partners we are working to increase housing opportunities for low-income residents and to build adequate drainage infrastructure for new and existing neighborhoods, civic engagement, and capacity through design. We invite you to learn more about four of our specific projects: sustainABLEhouse, Drainage Equity, LUCHA, and Public Design Impact Initiative, all of which are working hard to achieve these goals.
In 2016, the LUCHA [Land Use Colonia Housing Action] initiative made some big strides in developing a collection of community education materials for the Rio Grande Valley. Building off prior work, [bc], ARISE, LUPE, CDCB, and TxLIHIS have been working together with colonia residents to write and design a series of educational tools. The LUCHA Library, which will launch in 2017, offers resources focusing on Governance, Drainage, Housing, Public Services, and Planning and Development.
What makes these new resources unique is the process by which they were made. [bc] has leveraged the expertise of LUPE, ARISE, colonia residents, local and regional experts, and our other partners in developing these 15 educational tools. Believing that residents hold critical local knowledge, [bc] has put our organizing partners and community members at the core of this content development process. From the beginning, organizers and colonia residents informed the priorities and direction of each topic area. As we continued in development they reviewed and provided feedback on all draft outlines and materials. This iterative process served to support [bc]’s content development process, while also preparing organizers to go out and share the materials with colonia residents.
2016 also brought the addition of a graphic designer to LUCHA - a first for many of the organizers and colonia residents. The transformation of the LUCHA content into a graphic learning tool is another way the LUCHA Library is seeking to make technical information accessible and applicable to low-income and colonia residents. To achieve this goal together, [bc], organizers, and the graphic designer developed the style and graphic language for future LUCHA materials. So far, draft materials for Drainage and Governance have been developed, tested by colonia residents, and will be released in early 2017. Materials for the remaining topics, Housing, Public Services, and Planning and Development will be released throughout 2017.
Once LUCHA 1.0 wrapped up, we along with our project partners, LUCHA representantes, and community leaders got together to review the successes and weaknesses of our first year. One key issue that arose was the small number of residents LUCHA was available to. With that feedback LUCHA 2.0 was developed. To better expand the reach of LUCHA, each project partner built on their strength and created an independent but complementary program. Here at [bc] we working on creating the LUCHA Platform, while our partners LUPE and ARISE are crafting a Leadership Development Program, and TxLIHIS has begun a Platicas Series.
The LUCHA Platform hopes to build power among residents and organizing groups through increasing access to information that residents and community organizations can use to better advocate for their communities.
The Platform will be a digital library of, downloadable and printable, community education resources covering the initial topic areas of governance, drainage, housing, public services, and planning & development. The community educational resources will be a combination of originally created content and existing educational materials.
Depending on the needs of the organization, a colonia, an organizer, or organizing campaign one can pick and choose the resources that are best for engaging their community. Over time, we plan to fill the Platform with much more than the initial 15 originally created educational resources, and build relationships with local, regional and state organizations to support long term resource development.
During its first phase, LUCHA worked directly with 15 colonia representatives, each of whom represent a larger organizing effort in Hidalgo and Cameron county. The goal of LUCHA 1.0 was trifold. To develop representantes’ understanding and expertise in the areas of land use, public infrastructure, development, and water issues. To engage representantes to further focus their top priorities, and begin to make selections of preferences on possible solutions. And to craft policy and legislative initiatives in preparation for the 2015 Texas legislative session.
Some examples of the Colonia and Housing issues that LUCHA leaders addressed were: housing affordability, adequate infrastructure, jobs, public safety, and land use. The initiative has the capacity, through legislative action, to impact the 1.2 million people living in the three county area, Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy. The demographic targets of the project are low-income residents of rural and urban subdivisions that lack complete, well-functioning municipal services.
Community Development Corporation of Brownsville
The Community Development Corporation of Brownsville (CDCB) is a non‐profit community housing development organization, who has been providing safe, sanitary, affordable housing to the citizens of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas for the past 38 years. CDCB participated in LUCHA workgroups, the engagement and management committees and was responsible of overseeing all housing and development initiatives.
Texas Low Income Housing Services
Texas Low Income Housing Information Services (TxLIHIS) is a nonprofit corporation established in Austin in 1988 to support low-income Texan's efforts to achieve the American dream of a decent, affordable home in a quality neighborhood. TxLIHIS lead and coordinated the Representantes trainings, planned with [bc] the LUCHA workgroups and was responsible of overseeing policy development initiatives. TxLIHIS assisted the Representantes with their political strategy as well.
La Unión del Pueblo Entero
César Chávez established La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), a non-profit organization, which is rooted in the belief that members of the low-income community have both the responsibility and the obligation to organize themselves, and through their association, to advocate for solutions to the issues that impact their lives. LUPE was responsible of identifying, recruiting and supporting Colonia representantes and of developing the political and engagement strategy for LUCHA. Working with TxLIHIS, LUPE lead and coordinated the representante trainings, and engagement and management committee meetings and assisted with the workgroups.
A Resource In Serving Equality
A Resource In Serving Equality Arise (ARISE) was founded in 1987 by Sister Gerrie Naughton, of the Sisters of Mercy order as a grassroots organization of women for women; building on strengths and respecting the dignity of each individual. In coordination with LUPE and other community organizations (START and TOP), ARISE was responsible of identifying, recruiting and supporting Colonia representantes, supporting colonia-wide events, the political strategy and leadership trainings, workgroups and workshops.
LUCHA emerged from the 2012 Colonia Summit held by state Senator Eddie Lucio, where colonia leaders and state officials gathered to discuss issues which require more systemic change. A key outcome was the determination that a council of colonia residents would be created to work with local and State government. LUCHA was designed to support the council, build capacity of local colonia residents [representantes], and identify community supported policy issues for the 2015 legislative session.
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. Lack of affordable housing, coupled with Texas’ limited regulation and low taxes at the county level, has contributed to thousands of families settling in primarily isolated communities on former farmland, ill prepared to handle the infrastructural needs of residential development.
While significant improvements have been made, including paved streets, potable water connections, and standards for water systems, limited efforts have been made incorporating colonia residents in infrastructure or long-range planning efforts. In 2011-12 colonia leaders, community organizing institutions, Community Development Corporations, planners, and housing policy experts partnered to develop seven (7) model colonia plans. The model colonia plans serve as the backdrop for LUCHA.