A closer look at Colony Ridge

There have been problems for awhile. Not the kind of problems that got the wingnuts all frothed up, but problems nonetheless.

When the fast-growing Colony Ridge development outside Houston became a fixation of right-wing media last year, Texas’ Republican leaders called for swift action.

The 33,000-acre development had been painted by conservative influencers, outlets and think tanks as a destination for thousands of immigrants in the country illegally and a hub for drug cartel activity. Gov. Greg Abbott publicly worried it was a “no-go zone” and directed legislators to craft new laws about “public safety, security, environmental quality, and property ownership in areas like the Colony Ridge development.”

Records obtained by Houston Landing and The Texas Tribune, however, show at least three state agencies were warned about other potential problems with the development years earlier. Residents sent state agencies more than five dozen complaints about Colony Ridge and its marketing arm, Terrenos Houston, from 2016 to 2023.

Yet, the state has few, if any, results to show.

Instead, the federal government stepped in with enforcement action, painting a different picture of the development’s problems. In a December lawsuit, the U.S. Justice Department alleged the Colony Ridge’s developer duped thousands of Latino buyers with a scheme that violates federal consumer protections and fair housing practices, while ruining their dreams of homeownership.

Thousands of Colony Ridge buyers defaulted on their loans, losing their land and nascent investments, according to the federal government. The company is accused of repeating that process — often exploiting language barriers — by reselling the land to new, unsuspecting customers.

Those findings mirror a Houston Landing investigation that found Colony Ridge had reacquired 45 percent of the 35,000-plus properties it had sold since 2012. The company’s practices raised concerns of a predatory lending scheme, experts told the Landing, which published the report in December, days before the Justice Department announced its lawsuit.

At least 27 complaints sent to three Texas state agencies since 2019 previously were unreported. They raise new questions about how Texas state leaders last fall failed to publicly identify the residents of the development as potential victims of predatory lending practices instead of villains trying to take over the country.

“Gov. Abbott and the Texas GOP spent months fearmongering about the immigrants living in Colony Ridge,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. “Their concern should have been with the developers exploiting Latino families trying to achieve the American dream of owning a home.”


Sisters SuEllen and Keilah Sanchez say they bought eight pieces of land from Colony Ridge with hopes they could help their family.

Their excitement soon crumbled.

They say Colony Ridge lied to them about flooding and utility hook-ups, gave them incorrect tax documents and took money before accusing them of missing payments and filing for foreclosure.

The federal government also has accused Colony Ridge of misrepresenting facts — such as guarantees of water, electricity and sewer hook-ups, “causing borrowers to incur substantial unanticipated expenses after closing.”

SuEllen Sanchez filed a complaint with the state’s Department of Savings and Mortgage Lending, which investigates some mortgage-related complaints. Her complaint was forwarded to the attorney general’s office, according to a letter a DSML investigator sent Sanchez in August 2021.

The sisters say they didn’t hear from the attorney general’s office until September 2023, two years later.

By then, Colony Ridge had become a talking point for state lawmakers and national right-wing media. The attorney general’s office received an average of 33,000 consumer complaints each of the last five years, according to caseload statistics from the office.

The sister’s complaints were among 69 sent to the state about Colony Ridge or its marketing arm, Terrenos Houston.

Forty-two of those complaints went to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, several of them alleging raw sewage discharges and violations of proper construction procedures. The federal government also accused Colony Ridge of causing raw sewage to run through and around some customers’ land.

The environmental agency did take some action against Colony Ridge in response to several early 2020 complaints of stormwater runoff from five sections of the development filling nearby creeks and ditches with pollutants. Colony Ridge’s leadership agreed to pay a $23,280 penalty that could rise to $29,100 if the company failed to improve its stormwater runoff monitoring, according to a TCEQ commissioners order dated Aug. 1, 2022.

See here for more on the federal lawsuit. There’s a lot more in the story, including a bit on a local official who appears to have been the source of the “illegal immigrant” hysteria, so go read the rest. You can also listen to this CityCast Houston podcast episode about the story, which gives you the flavor of it. The TCEQ was the only stat agency to be at all responsive to the residents; the fine they levied was chump change, but at least it was something. The federal lawsuit is likely to take a long time to resolve even if a settlement is reached. I’ll keep an eye on it.

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