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New Mexico State University students complete colonias survey

Four New Mexico State University students have completed the first thorough survey of colonias in New Mexico, said Esperanza Holguin, a program specialist for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.


said New Mexico does not have a central repository of information about colonias. Prior to this survey only a limited amount of information about the communities was available in the state. For example, when she began work for HUD in 1999, she was told there were 57 colonias in the 10-county area that HUD covers, but after studying county records she found there were 137. That number has since increased to 141, she said.

In a project funded last year by the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority and the North American Development Bank, the four students -- most of them from New Mexico State's geography department -- collected historical, demographic, economic, geographic and physical information about 137 colonias. Because they performed the work for HUD's colonias initiative, they surveyed only 10 counties in an area stretching 150 miles from the United States-Mexico border, Holguin said.

In order of those designating the most colonias to those listing the least, the counties are: Dona Ana, 35 colonias; Catron, 34 colonias; Grant, 33; Otero, 16; Hidalgo, 7; Luna, 5; Eddy, 2; and one colonia each for Sierra, Chavez and Socorro counties.

To receive official recognition, a community must be designated as a colonia by its county board of commissioners. It must lack potable water, waste water services, affordable, adequate housing or any combination of the three, Holguin said.

Once certified, a community can receive money from HUD, the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Environmental Protection Agency, she said.

The students, who did the survey under the direction of geography professor Robert Czerniak, are Brian Harper, a graduate student in geography who graduated in May; Javier Holguin, a doctoral student in industrial engineering with an interest in governmental planning; Steve Meadows, a senior in geography who graduated in May; and Chad Wakefield, a senior in urban planning.

"We used students because there was a limited amount of money available for the work and because I felt it would be of benefit to the students. Not only would it open their eyes to the existence of colonias, they would also get a sense of the culture of the communities," Holguin said.

To complete their study, the students sent surveys to officials in the colonias or to appropriate county officials, studied the records of governmental and non-governmental agencies, spoke to business and community leaders in the areas and visited as many colonias as possible, said Wakefield.

After compiling their information they submitted a report to HUD that includes four file boxes of information, a compact disc containing profiles of each colonia and a 12-page report describing their methodology. Holguin said she plans to use the report as the basis for a data bank of information about the colonias that would be accessible from HUD's Website.

Among the students' findings:

-- Besides the communities we traditionally think of -- new towns with little infrastructure and substandard housing -- counties have also designated older farming and mining communities whose levels of income have dropped so low they can no longer maintain their infrastructures, as well as other communities.

-- The students found some communities, in some cases with relatively high property values, whose designations they questioned.

-- Out of all colonias surveyed, only 15 are connected to a waste water treatment system.

-- Most colonias have a potable water system, most often provided by mutual domestic water associations, but the systems may be substandard and may not have enough water pressure for fire protection.

-- All the communities surveyed have electricity and gas service, although most use propane for cooking.

For further information about the study contact Esperanza Holguin at (505) 521-0050 or esperanza_a._holguin@hud.gov.