Part 1 of 2
No to Colonias in Chambers County!
Commentary by Gloria Roemer
Over the last year, I have received several inquiries from readers of The Seabreeze Beacon asking if the paper was up to date on the events going on in Liberty County in regard to Colony Ridge. My response was I don’t cover Liberty County unless the news crosses over into and affects Chambers County. Well, after listening to Liberty County resident Maria Acevedo at a Chambers County GOP meeting last week, I believe it is time to pay attention.
Colony Ridge in Liberty County is a 33,000 acre residential community
Development. The development has garnered national attention over the last couple of years due to allegations of the developer creating a safe haven for crime, drug cartels, and undocumented immigrants.
Trey and John Harris are the developers of Colony Ridge. Terrenos Houston, a sister company of Colony Ridge in Liberty County, primarily markets to potential Spanish-speaking customers. Its signs are in Spanish and promotes itself on social media with Spanish speaking presenters claiming “properties with water, electricity, and drainage, easy financing with owner to owner method, low down payment, and comfortable payments, it is very easy to apply we do not check credit!” They are selling the American Dream of owning property in the US.
Many accuse Colony Ridge of predatory lending practices. Colony Ridge offers owner financing to prospective buyers, meaning undocumented migrants can bypass the credit rating and proof of residency required by traditional bank loans. And, there is a loophole on the federal level that allows people who do not have, and are not able to obtain, a Social Security number (SSN) from the Social Security Administration (SSA), can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). This ITIN can allow noncitizens to purchase property in the United States.
Once a buyer puts down a small down payment, buyers are paying extremely high interest rates as high as 15%+ as well as hefty water and sewage hookup. So many of the buyers learn that they cannot afford their homes or build on the land they bought, and the owners (Colony Ridge) foreclose on the properties. In turn, Colony Ridge resells the properties and hence, continue to make money. Some who can pay the loan on their land but cannot afford to build a house, instead bring in trailers for housing. Others live in tents on their property.
Because Terrenos Houston caters to the Spanish speaking community, obviously, a large percentage of the community is Hispanic. There are rumors that several cartels have bought property in Colony Ridge because of the lack of documentation required. As a result, the criminal element has exploded in Liberty County.
Acevedo stated that students overdosing on fentanyl in Cleveland High School is now a common occurrence. She also stated that bodies are being found regularly in the woods and marshland. Texas Department of Public Safety statistics say there were 12 murders in Liberty County in 2022, and only one in 2011. Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader said recently that his department doesn’t have enough officers to properly patrol the settlement, which he described as something of a no-go zoner. “I have heard rumors that the cartel is buying up these houses,” he said, without offering evidence.
The population of Colony Ridge is alleged to be between 40,000 to 75,000. The population of Liberty County has grown from 75,643 in 2010 to an estimated 101,992 in July 2022. With its rapid growth, the Cleveland Independent School District population grew from close to 3,000 students to nearly 12,00 last year. And, voters rejected a $150 million bond package to build new schools in 2021.
Developer John Harris is a major donor to Texas Governor Greg Abbott to the tune of over $1 million. Abbott has expressed concern over the development and has added its consideration of Colony Ridge to this year’s third special legislative session.
*Part 2: What Can Chambers County Do to Prevent “Colonias”?