Get access

El Título en la Mano: The Impact of Titling Programs on Low-Income Housing in Texas Colonias


  • We wish to thank Rebecca Lightsey and the Community Resource Group for permission to publish from the report. The authors alone are responsible for any opinions or errors in this article.

Peter M. Ward is Professor of Public Affairs and Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Ward is primary author of this article, in collaboration with Flavio de Souza, Associate Professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco, Brazil, (survey analysis); Cecilia Giusti, Assistant Professor at Texas A & M University (focus groups); and Jane E. Larson (legal analysis), Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. This article is based on a major study and report coordinated by Ward, titled “An Evaluation of the Community Resource Group (CRG) Colonias Lot Titling Program in Rio Grande City, Starr County, Texas,” prepared for the CRG in 2002 (


This article analyzes the impact of The Community Resources Group Receivership Program undertaken from 1998 to 2002 that provided clean property titles to residents in several informal housing colonias (subdivisions) in South Texas. Survey data were gathered from 260 low-income households comprising two populations: those who had secure title from the outset, and those who were beneficiaries of the land titling program. Focus group interviews were conducted to explore how the beneficiaries construct the meaning of ownership before and after title “regularization.” Formal titling consolidates understandings of absolute property relations in comparison with de facto rights born of use (legal or not), which strengthens people's sense of self-esteem and potential for political involvement. We found that, contrary to conventional wisdom, title provision per se appears to have little direct impact either upon home improvement or upon residents' receiving enhanced access to credit and financial services. We also found evidence that informality and illegality is likely to reemerge as owners die intestate, and as they revert to informal land market property transfers.