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A Housing Breakthrough

Together, a design studio and community-development corporation are transforming housing in the Rio Grande Valley.

CityLab, Oct. 1, 2014

Brownsville, Texas, sits high in the rankings where cities want to come in low. It’s the poorest city in America, with 36 percent of its residents living in poverty. (By contrast, the poverty level in the nation’s richest city, San Jose, California, is 10.8 percent.) It has among the country’s highest rates of diabetes and obesity, conditions that are estimated to affect up to half the local population. Other cities in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley don’t fare much better: McAllen, 60 miles to the west, is second-poorest in the nation.

This part of South Texas is known for its colonias, neighborhoods that developers conjured out of worthless land back in the 1950s to sell in small lots to poor, mostly Hispanic buyers, sometimes with false promises of improvements to come. There are about 1,800 colonias in Texas, and many still lack basic infrastructure like paved roads and sewage.

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Photograph by Skyler Fike