Over 20 years ago, a developer in the City of El Paso bought acreage in a plot of land, an undeveloped “island” landlocked by, but not included within, El Paso’s municipal lines. The developer recorded the purchase with the County, but then -- unbeknownst to anyone -- illegally partitioned the land and sold the reduced-sized lots to low-income families without providing certificates of occupancy.
120 families built their homes in the Norma-Georgia-Seventh-La Mesa colonia, having little idea they had purchased and were residing in illegal subdivisions. Because the land was not part of the City, and illegally partitioned in the County, neither local nor state entities assumed responsibility for ensuring access to safe water.
Some of the families from this subdivision who were members of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church expressed their struggles at a house meeting convened by Fr. Pablo Matta, and later partnered with Border Interfaith to bring infrastructure to their colonia.
While working with the families, Border Interfaith leaders discovered the unauthorized nature of their tenancy and soon after began organizing to explain to the county why they didn’t have certificates of occupancy. Their first victory consisted of compelling the County to formally recognize and register their occupancy in County records.
The fight for the extension of city water lines into the neighborhood continued as they organized to request funding from the Texas Water Development Board and financial assistance from the Economically Distressed Areas Program. Unfortunately, they received news that the state funding was depleted.
Finally, after many obstacles, the second victory came when Border Interfaith and EPISO approached the CEO of the El Paso Water Utilities and requested the authorized expenditure of $2 Million from the Public Service Board budget to extend public water utility lines into Norma-Georgia-Seventh-La Mesa. Together, the CEO and the leaders worked to secure the necessary votes from the Public Service Board, and on February 8, 2017 the Board voted unanimously in favor of the $2 Million funding.
Construction is programmed to begin in October of 2017.
[In photo above, Fr. Pablo Matta leads celebration.]