Several major publications have come out of the Texas Housing Study and Final Report:

Carlos Olmedo and Peter M. Ward. 2016. “Model subdivisions: The new face of developer lot sales for low-income colonia-type housing in Texas,” Land Use Policy 52, 181-194. Link to prepublication PDF.

Abstract: This paper examines developer practices and self-help housing in serviced subdivisions targeting very low-income Hispanic homesteaders in the Texas border region. Laid out under “Model Subdivision Rules” after federal and state legislative intervention in the early 1990s, this initiative sought to curtail further colonia development and to ensure that any further homesteading followed regulations regarding service and infrastructure provision. Model subdivisions (MSs) proliferated after 1995 and this paper examines developer practices of seller financing, lot sales, and lot repossession for the large number of low-income families who default. Descriptive data are presented about housing costs in a number of different sized model subdivisions, and regression analysis of over 1247 individual lots reveals aggressive rent-seeking developer practices that lead to: (i) high levels of default and repossession; followed by (ii) resale (flips) of lots to other unwary buyers; and (iii) rapid “flipping” (re-sale) of lots by developers soon after repos-session. Informal (seller) financing at high interest rates, combined with high private transportation and other consumption costs associated with low-income residence in peri-urban areas leave little cash sur-plus for self-building and home improvement such that housing conditions are among the worst in the State, and often worse than self-built homes in the colonias that the MSs were designed to replace. The paper concludes with a brief overview of the implications for theory and for a new round of public policy responses.

Peter M. Ward, Heather K. Way and Lucille Wood. 2016. “Protecting Homebuyers in Low-Income Communities: Evaluating the Success of Texas Legislative Reforms in the Informal Homeownership Market,” Law and Social Inquiry, Volume 41, Issue 1, 152-183. Link to PDF.

Abstract: Among low income populations in Texas a Contract for Deed (CFD) is a widely used, but risky, informal mechanism for purchasing a home or lot. This study examines the impact of the Texas Legislature’s interventions to regulate the use of CFDs. We track changes in the use of recorded and unrecorded CFDs between 1990 and 2010, and show that while the recording of CFDs increased significantly, developers have switched their property development portfolios into other forms of formal deeding. However, unrecorded CFDs show an emerging prevalence in property transactions between resident owners and new buyers especially in older colonias.

Noah J. Durst and Peter M. Ward. 2015. “Lot vacancy and property abandonment: colonias and informal subdivisions in Texas,” International Journal of Housing Policy, 15:4, 377-399, DOI: 10.1080/14616718.2015.1090095. DOI link to this article
For readers without access to IJHP, link to prepublication pdf.

Abstract: Property abandonment and lot vacancy are issues of growing importance given widespread demographic and economic changes in urban areas in the USA. This paper explores these issues in a different context, that of colonias and Informal Homestead Subdivisions in Texas. Housing and infrastructure conditions in these very low-income settlements are invariably poor. Given that the majority of these subdivisions are unincorporated, they face a variety of barriers to coordinated land and housing development that would combat high rates of lot vacancy and property abandonment. This paper documents changes in lot vacancy in these subdivisions from baseline 2002 to 2012, and analyses county tax assessor records to determine the extent to which property tax delinquency is a corollary of abandonment and long-term lot vacancy. The causes of lot and housing abandonment are discussed. Policy interventions such as Land Banking and Community Land Trusts are proposed as mechanisms to bring vacant lots back onto the market and prevent property abandonment by homeowners in unincorporated informal subdivisions.

Noah J. Durst and Peter M. Ward. 2014. “Measuring Self-Help Home Improvements in Texas Colonias: A Ten Year “Snapshot” Study,” Urban Studies, 51,10, 2143-2159. Link to PDF.

Abstract: This article builds on an earlier data presented in an Urban Studies paper for a major household survey in 2002 that evaluated on the impact of title regularization intervention among low-income homeowners in ten colonias in Starr County, Texas. In 2011 the research team returned to those low-income households oversampling more than half of them in order to compare and analyze: the extent and nature of housing improvement; levels of overcrowding and access to home amenities; and the methods of financing for home improvement and extension. Significant improvements and investments are observed totaling an average of almost $9,000 over ten years, mostly financed out of income and savings, although an increasing trend to seek loans from the formal market was observed. Correlation analysis explores how self-help and self-managed dwelling environments are adapted to family and household dynamics over the life course. Awareness of “green” housing applications and sustainability is discussed.

Peter M. Ward. 2014 “The Reproduction of Informality in Low Income Self Help Housing Communities,” pp. 59-77, in Vinit Mukhija and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sidaris, editors, The Informal American City. MIT Press. Link to PDF

Abstract: “The Reproduction of Informality among Low Income Self-Help Communities in the USA”. Insights from a major cross-national study of low income consolidated irregular settlements in Latin America ( reveals a reversion to informality as previously regularized (legal) property titles become clouded by household and home owner practices such as: informal inheritance and succession of home disbursal; as dwellings and lots are subdivided; and as informal house sales occur without the transfer and recording of title change. Such a reversal to title informality and irregularity appears to be quite logical, given inheritance laws and practices, householder expectations (especially among first and second generations) amid ongoing poverty, and the existence of poorly performing land and housing markets. 

The author’s ongoing research in low income neighborhoods in the USA reveals similar and parallel contemporary processes of informality and reversion to informality. Home building in ex-urban colonias and associated informal subdivisions, as well as home improvement and urban regeneration in inner-city (first suburb) neighborhoods demonstrate informality in a number of dimensions such as: land titling practices, financing mechanisms for home construction and improvement, non-code compliance, lot and dwelling subdivisions and infilling, and inheritance practices, all conceived as highly rational responses to poverty and poor market performance. Data presented in this chapter come primarily from Mexican and Mexican American communities in South and Central Texas and draw upon three major datasets compiled by the author. The realms of informality discussed are: forms of land acquisition; types of title and proof of ownership; financing of home building and improvements; compliance with codes; lot subdivision among kin or petty landlord-tenant arrangements; practices of servicing and solid waste disposal; health practices to deal with chronic morbidity and mobility problems and aging; inheritance and disposition of property to heirs. In addition to identifying the myriad processes leading to informality in such US neighborhoods, the chapter will outline policy directions and sensitivities that, if adopted might improve housing conditions and property transactions, and avoid the often unanticipated consequences that lead to further cycles of informality.

2000 Land Market and Densification Study:

Peter M. Ward et al. 2004. “Colonia Land and Housing Market Performance and the Impact of Lot Title Regularization in Texas”, Urban Studies 41, 13. 2621-2646. (Lead author with C. Guisti and F. de Souza). PDF

Peter M. Ward et al.  “Con el título en la mano: The Meaning of Full Property Titles, and the Impact of Titling Programs Upon Low Income Housing Improvements in Texas Colonias.”   (Lead author in collaboration with Jane Larson, Flavio de Souza and Cecilia Giusti).* Law and Social Inquiry. PDF

Other related publications include:

Peter M. Ward. 1999. Colonias and Public Policy in Texas and Mexico: Urbanization by Stealth. Austin: University of Texas Press. 298pp.

Peter M. Ward and Jeremiah Carew. 2000 “Absentee Lot Owners in Texas Colonias: Who Are They, and What Do They Want?” Habitat International. 24, 327-345. (with Jeremiah Carew)* PDF 

Peter M. Ward and Jeremiah Carew. 2000 “Tracking Absentee Lot Owners in Texas Colonias: A Methodology”. Journal of Land Use Policy 18, 2 73-86. (With Jeremiah Carew)* PDF

Peter M. Ward 2001. (with Robert Stevenson & Angela Steusse)  Residential Land market Dynamics, Absentee Lot owners, and Densification Policies for Texas Colonias. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Working Paper,  144pp. PDF

Peter M. Ward. (Ed).  2001. Irregular Settlement and Self-Help Housing in the United States: Memoria of a Research Workshop. Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. PDF

Peter M. Ward. 2003 “Informality of housing production at the urban-rural interface: the not-so-strange case of colonias in the US: Texas, the border and beyond”  In Urban Informality Editors,  Annanya Roy and Nezar AlSayyad, Lexington/Center for Middle Eastern Studies, UC Berkeley. (pp. 243-70) PDF

Peter M. Ward. 2008. “Colonias, Informal Homestead Subdivisions and Self-Help Care for the Elderly among Mexican Populations in the USA”, In The Health of Aging Hispanics:  The Mexican-origin Population(Jacqueline L. Angel and Keith E. Whitfield, Eds.). Springer  Publishing Co., New York. PDF

Peter M. Ward and Paul Peters. “Self-help housing and Informal Homesteading in Peri-Urban America: Settlement Identification Using Digital Imagery and GIS”, with Paul Peters*.  Habitat International, pp. 141-64. PDF