Colonias — impoverished communities along the United States’ southern border — date back to the 1950s when ruthless property developers created unincorporated subdivisions on agriculturally useless land that usually lay in floodplains. They failed to put in any infrastructure and then sold the plots to people seeking affordable housing at hugely inflated rates of interest. “Miss one payment,” says Lionel Lopez who runs the South Texas Colonia Initiative, an advocacy group for residents, “and you have to start all over again.” Colonias didn’t really hit the headlines until 20 years ago. It was incredible then that people in the United States were living without running water, electricity or sanitation. It’s even more incredible that it’s still happening in 2011. Texas is home to more colonias than any other state. According to official state records, around 500,000 people — predominantly Hispanic — live in 2,300 of these communities along a 1,248-mile stretch of the border. Housing is usually in shacks made of wood, plywood and cardboard, or in trailers. But it’s not just the border that is home to the colonias: Primavera, the one in which Marines lives, is just a few miles outside of Corpus Christi in Nueces County, 150 miles or so from Mexico. There have been some improvements. According to a report by the Texas Secretary of State Colonia Initiatives Program which co-ordinates the various federal, state and local agencies and officials helping address the challenges, in 2006 there were an estimated 62,675 residents living in 442 colonias that lacked basic infrastructure such as potable water and wastewater disposal. In 2010, this had dropped to 44,526 living in 353 colonias. Herein lies the problem: Critics say there are so many agencies involved in “helping address the challenges” that deciding who does what, where funding will come from, and which community will receive it, is a mess. And some, including Lopez, question the official number of colonias.