Residents in one Liberty County subdivision living in bad conditions

Monday, November 2, 2015
Bad living conditions in Liberty County
A community exposed in Liberty County, Deborah Wrigley has the details.

LIBERTY COUNTY, TX (KTRK) -- It advertises an escape from the city, land on which to grow and build a home. No restrictions, easy credit, that's the promise of Terrenos Houston about its subdivisions in Liberty County.

Trey Harris is the head of Colony Ridge, the developer behind Terrenos. He has a target customer. "These are the guys who fix your car, mow your yard and built the house you live in... blue collar," he says.

There is more here than houses. The lots go for about $25,000. On them, old mobile homes, places that appear to be built out of scrap material, a cargo container with a tarp. This is unincorporated Liberty County. There is no regulation to control what's built here, other than requiring water and sewer connections. Families can live on the land while they build a permanent home. That's what Maria Rivera planned.

"Just building my home here, a decent place to live and having a good living. That's all I wanted," she says.

She financed four lots with Terrenos. She got her water and sewer service, bought a travel trailer to live in, got a utility pole and meter from the power company, but she's still waiting for electricity.

"This is what they said to me, 'We deny service because the RV has wheels. No possible way we can give you service,'" she recalls.

She bought a wood shed and says she was refused service for that. Now, she says she's out of money, except to pay the note on the land at more than 12 percent interest. She says some neighbors are in worse shape.

"Instead of windows, they have blankets covering the windows and that's how they live right now," she says.

The company states its five master planned communities have more than 8000 lots, 400 of which are now occupied. It's a small number, but the Cleveland school district has seen student enrollment rise by more than 10 percent in two years, enough that voters are being asked to approve a $35-million bond election, part of which would add more classroom space.

Dr. Darrell Myers, Cleveland ISD Superintendent, says "It's significant for us, so it does present some challenges for the district especially on the facilities side."

It is the cost of growth which continues as more timberland is cleared for the subdivisions. Colony Ridge figures the development will bring about $3.5-million in tax money to the county this year, but the county judge says even with that, resources are being stretched thin.

Jay Knight, Liberty County judge, says, "Impact on public safety, impact on traffic, those are the main concerns I can see that weren't considered before the onset."

The county is studying ways to control development in the future. Trey Harris now says he plans to impose restrictions on some sections of the subdivisions, setting standards on what can be built. That's going forward. What's already here remains unrestricted, including the lots where Maria Rivera is still waiting to realize her dream.