Tag Archive for: Colony Ridge

Flooded 3 Times in 7 Years in 500-Year Floodplain, But No Buyout

Daniel and Kathleen Moore live with their 8-month old baby near the East Fork San Jacinto in Montgomery County. The young couple desperately wants a buyout after their house on Idle Glen in New Caney flooded three times in seven years. But no buyout is in sight.

When they bought the home, they were told it was in the 500-year floodplain. In fact, Montgomery County flood maps still show their home is in the 500-year (.2% annual chance) floodplain.

However, that determination is based on floodplain data from the 1980’s – before the Moores were even born. And since then, the area upstream from them has boomed with new development.

New Upstream Development Invalidates Old Data

For instance, Colony Ridge, just 2.5 miles to the northeast on the other side of the river, has grown 50% larger than Manhattan since 2010 – with virtually no flood mitigation measures on the East Fork side of the area.

In one seven year stretch (2017 to 2024), the Moores flooded three times. During Harvey, they flooded to nine feet. In Imelda, they got one foot. And in the no-name storm of May 2024, five feet of floodwater destroyed everything in the bottom floor of their home.

Said Daniel, “I figured Harvey was extreme. I didn’t worry too much about that. But the next two storms were different. We just can’t afford to rebuild every two or three years.” Daniel works as a mechanic. “The pay isn’t that great,” he says. “We need to move.”

Rebuilding Without Flood Insurance

After the first two floods, they rebuilt the home with money from their own pockets – without benefit of insurance. But with a new baby, they can no longer afford that.

The Moores’ story underscores how inexperience can hamstring young couples on technical issues, such as floodplain delineation and flood insurance.

The moral of this story: before you invest in a new home, consult with a professional hydrologist about the risk. Talk to neighbors about past flooding. Look for tell-tale signs like mold on neighbors’ homes, rotting wood, and elevated structures.

And buy flood insurance. It’s available through FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program. Not all agents feel the commission justifies the trouble of handling it, especially if the home has a history of flooding, so you may get mixed signals from them. Shop around.

Moore Photos During and After May 2024 Flood

Daniel tried to return home after spending the first night with his family in a motel. He couldn’t get onto the feeder road from SH99. This picture shows FM1485 totally flooded.

FM1485 on second day of flood.
Raging waters reached the top of the street sign and nearly touched the power wires.
Floodwater jumbled the living room furniture.
Another room totaled.

Cleanup after the Flood

I took the following shots on 5/18/24. As Daniel worked to gut his uninhabitable home once again, his wife tended the baby at her mother’s home.

Living room of Daniel and Kathleen Moore destroyed by flooding in May 2024
Daniel points to height of flood waters. For reference, he is 6’5″ tall.
Possessions carted to curb and picked over by scavengers.

Scavengers feel, “What difference does it make? They’re throwing this out anyway.” But it makes flood victims feel victimized all over again. Daniel says he’s found people picking through his belongings every day since the flood.

Floodwater reached the top of Kathleen’s Tahoe. It floated during the flood and turned 90 degrees. No one knows where the phone pole came from.
Daniel, tired, bewildered, and still a bit dazed.

But the Moores’ trials and tribulations are not over.

Buyout Chances

The Moores have had a hard time connecting with anyone in Montgomery County who will offer them a buyout.

Ironically, the fact that they are in a 500-year floodplain that hasn’t been updated in 40 years could hurt their buyout chances. FEMA scoring generally favors those with higher risk.

FEMA also favors homeowners with flood insurance. That’s because buying out the homeowners would likely save FEMA money on insurance reimbursements after multiple floods.

But that’s not all.

River Rising Again

Before leaving the Moores’ home, I put my drone up and saw this.

East Fork rising again. Out of banks and flooding FM1485 (right) near 1 PM on May 18, 2024. Looking E. Note river on middle right already had risen over one road in the neighborhood. Daniel says FM1485 is totally under water now.

As of 6 PM, the National Weather service shows the river is still rising. They predict it will crest tonight just under major flood stage near 69 feet.

NWS prediction as of 5:52 PM on 5/28/24 for gage within blocks of Moore home.

That should bring the water close to the Moores’ front door again.

As I drove around his neighborhood, I marveled at the number of abandoned and flooded homes. One can only wonder whether this neighborhood will survive.

Please pray for the safety of all who live there.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/18/24

2454 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 2 Weeks since the No-Name Flood of 2024

East Fork Homes Flooding, Another Flood Watch Issued

May 1, 2024 – Even as East Fork homes are flooding, the National Weather Service has issued another Flood Watch for the region.

Monday’s Storm Brings Wednesday’s Flood

The stormwater from last Sunday night/Monday morning that’s flooding homes near the East Fork San Jacinto could get reinforcements tonight. Another powerful storm is approaching and will collide with moisture laden air from the Gulf later day.

That caused the National Weather Service to issue another flood watch from 10 PM this evening until Thursday evening for Houston and Harris County.

That same NWS bulletin also says that a flood warning remains in effect for the East Fork San Jacinto near New Caney affecting Liberty, Montgomery and Harris Counties.

Jeff Lindner, Harris County’s meteorologist, warned in his midday report that “Widespread amounts of 2-5 inches are likely with isolated totals of 6-9 inches. High hourly rainfall rates will be likely on the order of 2-4 inches which will produce rapid onset flash flooding.”

Lake Conroe and Lake Livingston Already Taxed to Max

The additional rainfall could overburden already overtaxed watersheds. “There is no capacity at either Lake Livingston or Lake Conroe,” said Lindner. “Additional inflows and run-off will have to pass through the dams’ floodgates.”

Although Lindner expects the heaviest rains to stay north of Harris County, “There is some potential that some of the heavy rainfall reaches into northern Harris County overnight,” he added.

If so, the storm could impact Spring, Cypress, Little Cypress, and Willow Creeks as well as the tributaries in northern Waller and southwestern Montgomery Counties, such as Lake Creek.

Lindner says significant rises will be possible depending on the rainfall amounts and patterns. Flash flooding will be likely where heavy rains occur.

That could deal a devastating blow to homes already flooding along the East Fork.

East Fork Photos Taken Morning of Mayday Flood

Pictures taken this morning between 9 and noon showed roads flooded out and many homes and vehicles already underwater.

TXDoT closed FM1485 at the East Fork/Montgomery County line.
SH99 on left, FM1485 on right.

Streets close to the river also flooded.

Looking S. Casey Road on left flooding from East Fork on right.
Home with flooded vehicles and heavy equipment at Casey and Spaulding.
Flooded homes at Casey and Green.
Cypress Hollow just N of SH99.

I took more than a hundred photos like these this morning. Some people were lucky with the water stopping just feet from their homes. Other people were not so lucky. They will need help.

Colony Ridge, Plum Grove and FM2090

Farther north, I explored Colony Ridge and Plum Grove near FM2090.

One of the main entrances to Colony Ridge where it approaches Plum Grove Road

The water there was already starting to recede. But still, many roads were barely passable. Most smaller vehicles did not brave the water.

Opposite angle, same intersection. Unable to see the sides of the road, traffic tried to stay close to the centerline to stay out of the ditches.
Looking NW over East Fork. FM2090 was still passable, but water lapped at the bottom of the bridge. The East Fork completely flooded the abandoned sand mine (upper right) and swept sediment out of mine.

Ironically, even though I could see my way out of Colony Ridge (from the air), I could not get to FM2090 on the ground because of floodwaters. I had to drive south to SH99 to return home.

Dunnam Road Boat Launch

Back in Kingwood, I called a friend on Dunnam Road. She said her boat launch flooded and that water was lapping at the first house coming up the hill.

Dunnam Road boat launch.
Note water surrounding house adjacent to boat dock. Luckily it did not flood and water is receding as of 4PM.
This young man appeared to be making the most of the flood by giving his daughter a fishing lesson. A neighbor told me he’s been doing that since she was born!

Posted by Bob Rehak on May 1, 2024

2437 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Wildly Divergent Colony Ridge Population Estimates Pose Planning Problems

Colony Ridge, the controversial Latino development in Liberty county, has grown at least 50% larger than Manhattan in about a decade. How many people live there? No one knows for sure. Colony Ridge population estimates vary widely. And that has ominous implications for planners.

Most of Colony Ridge falls within Census tract 7003.02. The Census Bureau estimates that, in 2023, 13,573 people lived there, even though Colony Ridge occupies only about two thirds of the census tract.

Based on that, one might conclude that the Census Bureau believes about 10,000 people live in Colony Ridge. But the local school district estimates 80,000 people live there. Who’s right? And why does it matter?

What’s at Stake

A precise answer is important for many reasons: Congressional representation for Texas is at stake. So is planning for water supply, schools, traffic, law enforcement, flood mitigation, and more. Yet precise answers are elusive.

Why the Wide Variation?

Last year, I interviewed Congressman Brian Babin’s chief of staff. Babin represents Colony Ridge in Congress.

Babin’s chief told me about the problems that Census takers had in Colony Ridge back in 2020. To summarize, as many as two, three, or even four families often live together in one home. And often, they don’t want to be counted. Reportedly, many fear discovery and deportation because they entered the U.S. illegally. So they are under-reported.

In an interview with Blaze Media, Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader was asked if he has any idea how many Colony Ridge residents are here illegally. Rader replied (at 26:23 into the video), “… the majority of the people out there are illegal aliens.”

Rader’s observation is consistent with U.S. Border Patrol reports of record-high migrant encounters – more than a quarter million in last December alone at the Mexican border.

Yet the Census Bureau estimates that only about 50 people per year move to ALL of Liberty County as a result of international immigration and Colony Ridge is reputedly the largest, fastest growing colonia in the country.

Estimates contradict each other.

Who to Believe?

On the low end, in round numbers, the Census Bureau believes about 10,000 people live in Colony Ridge. On the high end, based on enrollment, the Cleveland ISD superintendent believes about 80,000 live there.

At 29:45 into the Blaze video, Cleveland ISD Superintendent Stephen McCanless says, “What we’re finding down there (in Colony Ridge) is that you have multiple families living in one house with four, five, six and sometimes seven children in one house.” At 28:14, McCanless says “District enrollment is usually 10% of your total community population. That tells me that we should have about 80,000 people living there.”

While the superintendent has an actual head count, he’s counting children, not adults. The Pew Foundation found that Hispanics are far more likely than Whites to have large families with four or more children today. That’s one possible source of error when comparing to historic, largely White norms.

The superintendent is also not counting Colony Ridge children whose parents enroll them in Montgomery County schools not far away. According to anecdotal reports, that number could be substantial.

John Harris, the developer, splits the difference between the Census Bureau and the ISD. He estimates the current population of Colony Ridge at approximately 35,000 at 3:22 into the Blaze video. But Harris is basing his estimate on “lots sold,” not residents per lot.

Deeply Flawed Population Estimates Will Affect Planning

Conclusion: all these contradictory population estimates have flaws. And that makes planning an exercise in guesswork. Let’s take the example of water. It’s necessary to sustain life, yet planning large scale water projects can take decades. Most take up to 50 years.

If Colony Ridge grew by 80,000 people in roughly 10 years, will there be enough water in the aquifers to support a quarter million in another 20 years? If not, where will the water come from?

I talked to one long-term resident of neighboring Plum Grove whose well ran dry recently. She and her neighbor both had to drill their wells lower.

If Colony Ridge does grow to a quarter million people, it would rank near the ten largest cities in Texas.

At that point, the fight for water rights would pit Liberty County’s traditional farm-based population against newcomers, more than half of whom by the Sheriff’s estimate are illegal aliens. I don’t see that battle ending well…for anyone.

Missing Documents: Skirting State and County Water Regulations

To avoid surprises like this, Liberty County requires proof of a 30-year water supply before it approves plats. See Section 8.2 of Liberty County Subdivision Regulations. So does the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas.

Yet when Maria Acevedo, a former landowner in Colony Ridge, requested such proof, neither Liberty County, the TCEQ, nor PUC could supply it. That’s scary.

It took decades to plan and build the Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer Project and even longer for the Northeast Water Purification Plant. Together, they cost $2.3 billion.

Can an area where at least 30% of the population lives below the poverty line afford that investment? Colony Ridge has already shown that its corner-cutting business model can’t afford to meet Liberty County fire hydrant and drainage regulations.

The issue is sustainability. As aquifers deplete, land subsides. And Colony Ridge already has flooding problems.

Subsidence can make that worse by creating a bowl in the landscape that reduces the gradient of streams. That slows down floodwaters and makes them peak higher, faster – especially when surrounding development has insufficient stormwater detention like Colony Ridge.

It’s time to do some mid-course correction while there’s still time.

For more information about Colony Ridge, see this list of previous posts.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/31/24 with thanks to Michael Shrader for his research on population

2406 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Paxton Slams Colony Ridge with Massive, Multi-Count Lawsuit

On 3/14/24, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a 48-page lawsuit against Colony Ridge, its owners and affiliates. The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court, alleges the defendants engaged in a variety of deceptive practices that violated the:

  • Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act
  • Fraud in Real Estate Transactions Act
  • Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010
  • Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act.

The lawsuit claims that the sprawling community a few minutes northeast of Houston in Liberty County is based on a foundation of “false, misleading and deceptive sales, marketing and lending practices.”

For the full text of the 48-page lawsuit, click here or read the summary below.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a request by the entire Republican Congressional delegation for Paxton to investigate Colony Ridge. Paxton subsequently wrote a letter to Governor Greg Abbott, Speaker Dave Phelan and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. That letter outlined results of a preliminary investigation for a special session of the Texas Legislature to consider last year.

Although the legislature took no substantial action against Colony Ridge, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) did. It sued Colony Ridge for predatory lending practices, bait-and-switch advertising and more. The charges filed today by the Texas Attorney General reinforce and amplify the DOJ allegations.

Business Model Allegedly Based on Foreclosures

Specifically, the suit claims that, “Colony Ridge targets foreign-born and Hispanic consumers with limited or no access to credit with promises of cheap, ready-to-build land and financing without proof of income. And Colony Ridge lies in a multitude of ways about the conditions that those buyers will experience on the property.”

The AG further claims, “Many of those conditions, once discovered, preclude the buyer from actually making any practical use of the land. The result is that the buyer, having discovered that they cannot meaningfully use the land, defaults on the land financing at jaw-dropping rates.”

“Colony Ridge then forecloses on the buyer, re-possesses the land having lost nothing, and then turns around and sells the same land again to another unsuspecting buyer with the same deceptive set of misrepresentations.”

As a result, the lawsuit claims Colony Ridge foreclosure rates were 50X higher than the 2023 national average.

Paxton Lawsuit

The lawsuit meticulously documents how the Colony Ridge business model allegedly incentivizes foreclosures. According to Paxton, Colony Ridge routinely repurchases lots through foreclosure and resells them at higher prices that reflect the value of improvements previous buyers have made.

Marketing in Spanish with Legal Papers in English

The lawsuit goes into detail about marketing practices that exploit Hispanic buyers’ often poor understanding of the English language and U.S. laws. Marketing reportedly takes place in Spanish, but closing documents are in English in small print, with only a brief verbal Spanish summary that omits key details.

Fake Social-Media Listings

Paxton also alleges that marketing lured buyers through fake social media accounts using fake listings under fake names. Colony Ridge routinely provided cell phones to its sales representatives with multiple SIM cards, each linked to the fake property listings around the Houston area.

If a potential buyer expressed interest, their contact information got forwarded to Colony Ridge, even if they were not looking for land in Colony Ridge. Said another way, the fake listings were used to cast a wider net for potential buyers.

Services Promised, but Not Included

Allegedly, advertisements claimed the lots included services such as water, electricity and drainage when they did not. They also claimed that the available services would save buyers thousands of dollars compared to septic systems.

Instead, says the lawsuit, “…consumers are responsible for spending thousands (even tens of thousands) of dollars to set up city services because access, contrary to Colony Ridge’s representations, is not readily available. Further, many consumers must wait over a year for city service installation, belying Colony Ridge’s claims that lots are readily accessible for all city services.”

The lawsuit frequently quotes Colony Ridge training manuals for its employees, suggesting a systematic approach to alleged violations. Many employees apparently provided insight into their employers’ practices.

Returns Promised, but Not Allowed

“Colony Ridge compounds misrepresentations at closing by informing concerned consumers that Colony Ridge will take back lots from buyers who can no longer afford their mortgage payments,” says the lawsuit. But if a buyer tries returning a property due to hardship, they are then told “returns are not allowed.”

Delivery Promised at Closing, but Often Delayed Year or More

The lawsuit claims Colony Ridge allegedly delivers property to the buyer as of the date of closing. However, buyers report that they have had to wait up to two years to take possession. “Colony Ridge does not allow them onto the land for any purpose, including clearing illegally-dumped trash or debris, leveling, or putting in culverts,” claims the lawsuit.

Clients Asked to Sign Illegal Waivers

Paragraph 70 states that contracts contain an illegal deceptive-trade-practices waiver. On paper, the waiver purports to allow Colony Ridge to avoid a whole range of consumer claims ranging from fraud to Deceptive-Trade-Practice-Act (DPTA)-based claims. However, under DPTA, contracts may not contain such waivers. Says the lawsuit, “This waiver provision is a per-se DTPA violation.”

Taxes Not Prorated as Promised

In Paragraph 71, Paxton says that Colony Ridge told buyers that property taxes would be prorated as of the date of the closing. But deeds state that consumers are liable for ALL taxes from the current year, and even any increased taxes from previous years.

Flooding Problems Not Disclosed

Section E (Paragraphs 73-79) talks about undisclosed flooding problems.

Example: Colony Ridge home flooded January of 2021.

Unfortunately for many surrounding residents, the lawsuit does not seek a remedy for Colony Ridge drainage/flooding impacts beyond the boundaries of the community.

Developer Used POA Fees to Fund Expansion, not Improve Neighborhoods

Section F (Paragraphs 80-85) discusses how a property owner association (POA) controlled by the developer collects high fees without delivering any services that improve the community.

Instead, the El Norte POA (one of the defendants) “exists to deceive consumers into paying money to benefit their communities when, in truth, it merely serves to feed Defendants’ expansionist goals for the future.”

Four Counts All Allege Deceptive Trade Practices

Starting on Page 30, the lawsuit lists four counts against the various defendants. They allege:

  • Violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
  • Fraud in Real Estate Transactions.
  • Consumer Financial Protection Act violations.
  • Interstate Land Sales Act violations.

Millions in Penalties Sought

The lawsuit alleges that such practices have affected thousands of buyers. The State of Texas seeks civil penalties up to $1 million dollars per day during which such violations continue. It also seeks $10,000 per violation and an additional amount of $250,000 if alleged victims were 65 or older.

Other “Asks”

Beginning on Page 44/Paragraph 145, the lawsuit lays out what it requests from the court – an order:

  • Declaring Defendants’ conduct in violation of the laws above
  • Enjoining Defendants from:
    • Creating fake social-media accounts
    • Using false or misleading images within social media
    • Falsely representing the location of lots within advertisements
    • Not selling lots as advertised
    • Failing to provide accurate translations of documents
    • Misrepresenting the condition of lots for sale
    • Advertising that POA membership includes services or confers benefits
    • Collecting any delinquent POA funds
    • Foreclosing on any lien on real property for unpaid amounts due to any Colony Ridge POA
    • Transferring, moving, concealing, spending, or withdrawing POA funds
    • Collecting or spending funds from real property owners in any Colony Ridge subdivision, unless such funds are to be spent only for the benefit of the residents of that specific Colony Ridge subdivision.
  • Directing;
    • The recission or reformation of contracts where necessary to redress injury to consumers
    • Defendants to make full restitution to all consumers who have suffered losses as a result of the acts and practices alleged
    • Defendants to pay the State appropriate civil penalties pursuant to the CFPA and the DTPA
    • Defendants to pay the State’s investigative and litigation costs.

For a listing of previous posts involving Colony Ridge, see History of Heartbreak.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/15/24

2390 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

At Least Seven Investigations Launched into Colony Ridge

Today, Harris County joined the growing list of governmental agencies looking into Colony Ridge.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have already concluded their investigations and filed Federal lawsuits against the troubled developer.

On December 29, 2023, the New York Post reported that the Internal Revenue Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have all launched their own Colony Ridge investigations. Word on the street has it that even more investigations by other Federal agencies are underway.

Then on January 5, 2024, the Daily Wire reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has opened an investigation into Colony Ridge.

Finally, just today (1/9/24), Harris County Commissioners Court discussed investigating the flooding, housing and environmental impacts of Colony Ridge on Harris County. The County Administrators Office and Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey agreed to discuss forming a task force. They would then return to Commissioners Court for final approval of their task force recommendations.

Thrust of Many Investigations Still Uncertain

However, with the exception of the DOJ and CFPB, the direction of many of these investigations remains unknown.

For instance, the EPA could be investigating any of several different allegations, including wetlands, endangered species, and pollution violations.

Colony Ridge, which has grown at least 50% larger than Manhattan in a decade, has filled in ponds and wetlands. While the Army Corps bears initial responsibility for investigating wetlands violations, ultimately the EPA reviews permit applications under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Recently, the developer has been pushing into wetlands near Tarkington Bayou. I took the three photos below during in October 2023 while flying over the bayou. Despite a punishing drought, you can still see evidence of ponding.

A University of Waterloo (Ontario) study found that small isolated wetlands that are full for only part of the year are often the first to be removed for development. They enjoy fewer legal protections due to their apparent isolation from jurisdictional waters.

However, the study found that they can be twice as effective in protecting downstream lake or river ecosystems than those directly connected to them. The study labeled them “pollution-catching powerhouses.” Their disconnectedness makes them more effective pollution traps.

Previously, I reported that the TCEQ found raw sewage leaking from a lift station and sewers in Colony Ridge. TCEQ estimated that 48,000 gallons escaped into the Lake Houston watershed, which supplies drinking water for two million people.

To report environmental violations to the EPA, see this page.

Another possibility: EPA may also be looking into whether Colony Ridge displaced any threatened or endangered species. Texas Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say twelve threatened and endangered species live in Liberty County. Some reportedly live in the Colony Ridge Area.

For More Information

Since 2020, I have created more than 75 posts about different aspects of Colony Ridge – from missing drainage studies to sewage spills, rivers of mud, and more. To see links to all the posts, visit this page.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/9/2024

2324 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harris County To Reconsider Colony Ridge Impacts

On Tuesday, 1/9/24, Harris County Commissioners court will consider a motion by Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, P.E. to monitor the potential flooding, housing, and environmental impacts of Colony Ridge on Harris County. (See Item 282 on the Agenda.)

Ramsey submitted a similar item for the 10/10/23 session of Commissioners Court. The Court took no action at that time, but agreed to revisit the issue. Now is that time. And the political landscape has changed.

How Tuesday’s Discussion Will Differ from October’s

The discussion on Tuesday will probably differ radically from October’s.

First, Tuesday’s agenda item is broader; it includes housing and environmental impacts, not just flooding.

Second, in October, the discussion quickly devolved into an argument about the credibility of media allegations that triggered a special session of the State Legislature. Among other things, the media allegations concerned illegal immigration. At the time, County Judge Lina Hidalgo characterized them as “conspiracy theories.” Things went downhill from there.

Ultimately, the State Legislature decided not to do anything about Colony Ridge except build a DPS substation there to beef up law enforcement.

But since then, things have changed.

DOJ/CFPB Lawsuit Changes Political Landscape

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have filed a lawsuit against the developer for predatory lending practices targeted mainly at Hispanics.

The 45-page lawsuit alleges that the developer violated the:

  • Fair Housing Act
  • Consumer Financial Protection Act
  • Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act
  • Equal Credit Opportunity Act

It also offers specific examples of alleged abuses, including:

  • Sky-high interest rates
  • Untrue statements in marketing materials
  • Omitting material facts
  • Failing to provide required accurate translations
  • Failing to report and disclose other required information
  • Marketing in Spanish but providing legal documents that buyers couldn’t understand in English
  • Foreclosing on properties multiple times

The inclusion of housing issues in Tuesday’s agenda may broaden the base of support for action re: Colony Ridge. Suddenly, we’re talking about people allegedly abusing Lina Hidalgo’s, Lesley Briones’ and Adrian Garcia’s core constituents. All three are Hispanic.

The lawsuit has already motivated LULAC (the League of United Latin American Citizens) to join the fight. The headline of this press release on their website says, “LULAC SUPPORTS FEDERAL ACTION IN MASSIVE REAL ESTATE FRAUD CASE THAT TARGETED LATINOS IN TEXAS.” As a result…

Commissioners may now see Colony Ridge as abusing immigrants, not helping them achieve the American Dream.

Plus, Colony Ridge is expanding into Harris County. That brings the issue much closer to home for Commissioners. We could soon be talking about how the Colony Ridge developer affects voters in Harris County, not voters in Liberty county.

Putting a Finer Point on Upstream Flooding Study

Even though Commissioner’s Court did not approve Ramsey’s Colony Ridge motion last October, the other commissioners didn’t totally ignore him. Commissioner Rodney Ellis also expressed concern about flooding issues originating outside Harris County.

On December 5, 2023, Commissioners Court approved a study of several watersheds including the East Fork San Jacinto River, which drains Colony Ridge. The purpose: to identify potential flood impacts due to unmitigated flows coming into Harris County from upstream counties and to evaluate the impacts of the increased flows on erosion and sedimentation issues.

If approved, Ramsey’s agenda item for next Tuesday, could put a much finer point on that. Instead of looking at flooding issues that originate in surrounding counties in general, it would specifically look at erosion issues originating in Colony Ridge. That could potentially lead to more legal action against Colony Ridge depending on what they find.

At a minimum, I hope it stimulates a discussion about two things:

In regard to the latter, I would point out that Harris and Liberty Counties have almost identical regulations for construction of drainage ditches. However, we get very different results.

The image on the right was taken over Colony Ridge. Such erosion contributes to the buildup of sediment that reduces the conveyance of rivers and streams, contributing to flooding.

For more information and issues relating to Colony Ridge, see this post.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/5/2024

2320 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

DOJ, CFPB Sue Colony Ridge for Bait-and-Switch, Predatory Lending, More

12/20/23 – Legal woes are mounting for Colony Ridge. Today, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) filed suit against the controversial Liberty County developer and the companies they own or control.

The government filed a complaint against land development companies Colony Ridge Development, LLC and Colony Ridge BV, LLC, affiliate mortgage company Colony Ridge Land, LLC (collectively, the Colony Ridge defendants), and loan origination company Loan Originator Services, LLC.

The Bureau and DOJ allege that defendants violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) by targeting consumers of Hispanic origin with a predatory loan product.

CFPB Press Release
Merry Christmas from Colony Ridge
Colony Ridge homeowner just before Christmas 2020

Additional Allegations in Lawsuit

The CFPB separately alleges that:

  • The Colony Ridge defendants violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 (CFPA) by making deceptive representations to consumers.
  • Colony Ridge Development and Colony Ridge BV violated the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act (ILSA) by making untrue statements, omitting material facts, failing to provide required accurate translations, and failing to report and disclose required information.
  • Defendants violated the CFPA by virtue of their violations of ECOA and ILSA, respectively.
  • Defendants’ conduct violated the Fair Housing Act.

Goal of Lawsuit

The joint complaint seeks, among other things, injunctions against defendants to prevent future violations of Federal consumer financial laws, redress to consumers, damages, and the imposition of civil money penalties.

DOJ and CFPB contend that the defendants operated an illegal land sales scheme and targeted tens of thousands of Hispanic borrowers with false statements and predatory loans.

Revolving Door Foreclosures that Targeted Hispanics

The joint DOJ/CFPB press release said that Colony Ridge “sells unsuspecting families flood-prone land without water, sewer, or electrical infrastructure, and that the company sets borrowers up to fail with loans they cannot afford. Roughly 1-in-4 Colony Ridge loans ends in foreclosure, after which the company repurchases the properties and sells them to new borrowers.” It amounted, say the plaintiffs to a “set-up-to-fail scheme that has led thousands of families to lose their dreams of homeownership.”

Another Colony Ridge homeowner on January 1, 2021.

Bait-and-Switch Allegations

CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said, “Our investigation uncovered that Colony Ridge is baiting borrowers with lies, saddling families with predatory loans for homesites that the company knows have repeatedly flooded with raw sewage and lacked basic utility infrastructure.”

Merrick B. Garland, U.S. Attorney General said, ““Today’s complaint alleges that Colony Ridge targeted Hispanic consumers with predatory loans, misled borrowers about the water, sewer, and electrical infrastructure on its lots, and exploited language barriers by conducting most of its marketing in Spanish while offering important transaction documents only in English.” 

Foreclosure and property deed records from September 2019 through September 2022 show that Colony Ridge initiated foreclosures on at least 30% of seller-financed lots within just three years of the purchase date, with most loan failures occurring even sooner. 

“Records also confirm that Colony Ridge accounted for more than 92% of all foreclosures recorded in Liberty County between 2017 and 2022.”

CFPB/DOJ Joint Press Release

The Entire Laundry List

The complaint cites a number of specific practices. It alleges that Colony Ridge:

  • Misleads borrowers about infrastructure on the lots it sells: Colony Ridge has falsely represented that lots in the Terrenos Houston subdivisions were sold with water, sewer, and electrical infrastructure already in place. ” It is only after applicants pay a non-refundable deposit that Colony Ridge discloses the properties may not provide those services and makes that disclosure only in English.”
  • Sells lots that flood with rain and raw sewage. The complaint alleges that Colony Ridge employees fail to inform borrowers of flood risk when lots have repeatedly flooded in the past, or falsely tells them the lots have not flooded. In fact, in parts of the subdivision, rain causes significant flooding, causing raw sewage to run through or around borrowers’ property, and damaging their personal belongings
  • Churns through borrowers in a cycle of foreclosure: When families fall behind on payments and enter foreclosure, it allows Colony Ridge to “flip” the properties by repurchasing and reselling them, often at higher prices. Foreclosure and property deed records show that Colony Ridge flipped at least 40% of all the properties it sold between September 2019 and September 2022, selling approximately 8,237 properties twice, 3,267 properties three times, and 2,067 properties four or more times in three years.
  • Targets Hispanic consumers with predatory loans: Through direct-to-consumer marketing on websites, social media engagement, and telemarketing, Colony Ridge targets Hispanic consumers. Colony Ridge then exploits language barriers during its sales process and uses high-pressure sales tactics to push borrowers to obtain their loan products quickly. The loans have exorbitant interest rates. Between 2017 and 2021, interest rates on Colony Ridge’s loans ranged from between 10.9% to 12.9%, while a standard 20-year fixed rate loan averaged 2.35% to 4.05% during the same timeframe. And in extending the loan, Colony Ridge and Loan Originator Services did not collect information needed to determine if applicants can afford the loan.
  • Exploits language barriers at borrowers’ expense: While Colony Ridge conducts most of its marketing activities in Spanish, when it comes to the actual transaction, it offers important documents only in English. Failing to offer borrowers accurate translations of contracts, deeds, and other documents in the language in which it conducts the sales and exploiting borrowers’ limited English proficiency violates federal law.

To see all 45 pages of the lawsuit, click here.

Could More Lawsuits Follow?

Today’s lawsuit follows courageous investigations by a number of news outlets and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. They include:

Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey brought many of the drainage issues in front of Harris County Commissioners Court last October. No action has yet been taken at the county level.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/20/23

2304 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Search For Sediment Solutions Should Lead Straight to Colony Ridge

Harris County Flood Control, SJRA, and the Cities of Humble and Houston using funding provided in part by the Texas Water Development Board are searching for sediment solutions in the Upper San Jacinto River Basin. Their major scientific study includes all or parts of seven counties: Harris, Montgomery, Waller, Grimes, Walker, San Jacinto and Liberty – all land draining into Lake Houston.

From Technical Memorandum 1 of the Upper San Jacinto River Basin Regional Sedimentation Study.

The high-level goal: to better manage sediment in the river basin. Sediment reduces both floodway conveyance and the storage capacity of Lake Houston. Both contribute to the frequency and severity of flooding.

Among other things, the study partners hope to prioritize sediment hot spots so they can develop sediment solutions and recommendations.

I hope they look at Colony Ridge. It exemplifies a major hot spot and points the way to an obvious sediment solution – better enforcement of existing regulations.

Scope and Status of Sediment Study

The study is now about half complete. With much of the fieldwork complete, the partners will next focus on modeling, hotspot identification, area prioritization and sediment solutions, according to Matt Barrett, Water Resources and Flood Management Division Manager atSJRA.

To date, the study has examined a variety of factors:

  • Topographical characteristics (watershed size, length, slope, relief, etc.)
  • Land Cover (degree of development, forested percentage, agricultural, wetlands)
  • Soil Types and Erodibility
  • Meteorological (annual rainfall amounts and intensity).

The Colony Ridge area receives some of the highest rainfall totals and highest intensity rains in the river basin.

From Technical Memorandum #2 of the USJRB Sedimentation Study, Page 16. Colony Ridge location circled in red.

Colony Ridge also ranks among the most erodible areas in the entire river basin.

Soil erodibility in the basin. From Technical Memorandum #2, Page 13. Colony Ridge circled in blue.

So, you would hope that a development 50% larger than Manhattan, which is decimating forests and filling in wetlands would receive some scrutiny.

Colony Ridge erosion
Colony Ridge ditch has widened approximately 80 feet in 6 years due to lack of erosion control measures such as backslope interceptor swales and grass.
Colony Ridge is now 50 percent bigger than Manhattan
Rivers of mud in Colony Ridge. Even the erosion is eroding.
Guess which way to colony ridge
Sediment coming down the East Fork (right) from Colony Ridge
East Fork Mouth Bar cost $18 million to dredge.
San Jacinto East Fork Mouth Bar between Kingwood and Huffman cost $18 million to dredge.

Sediment Solutions Must Address Development Practices

Erosion occurs naturally. But poor development practices can accelerate the rate of erosion unnaturally.

Regulations in Liberty County call for backslope interceptor swales to prevent sheet flow over the sides of ditches. I have yet to see one such system anywhere in the 30+ square miles of Colony Ridge. What you typically see is this.

All that sediment washes downstream where it reduces the carrying capacity of rivers and the storage capacity of Lake Houston.

Liberty County regulations also call for planting grass on the side slopes of ditches and detention basins. The grass reduces erosion, too. But you don’t see much grass on those side slopes either.

Compare the ditch above with the ditch below in Harris County to see how grass and backslope interceptor swales can reduce erosion.

Small swales behind main slopes capture sheet flow heading toward the ditch. Pipes then take runoff to the bottom of ditch, thus reducing erosion on side slopes.

Here’s Colony Ridge again.

Three-mile-long Colony Ridge drainage ditch has no grass or backslope interceptor swales.

Address the Elephant in the Room Before the Next Disaster

Ironically, both Liberty and Harris County have almost identical regulations for erosion control. Harris County enforces them; Liberty County doesn’t.

Enforcement of development regulations is the elephant in the room.

So, as the SJRA and its partners search for sediment solutions, here’s one simple recommendation. Enforce regulations already on the books.

Colony Ridge and other developments that skirt regulations represent a disaster waiting to happen. Unfortunately, it will probably take a disaster, such as Harvey, to cause leaders to take action. But by then, it will be too late.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/20/23

2242 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Paxton Letter Kicks Colony Ridge Concerns Up a Notch or Ten

Ten days ago, the entire Republican Congressional Delegation from Texas asked State Attorney General Ken Paxton to investigate Colony Ridge, the controversial development in Liberty County. Today, he responded with a scathing letter that kicked Colony Ridge criticism up quite a few notches. Paxton also sent the letter to Governor Greg Abbott; Dade Phelan, Speaker of the Texas House; and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.

Burden on Surrounding Communities

Paxton’s letter echoes many of the criticisms made in the media recently about Colony Ridge. But then he goes far beyond those.

After discussing illegal immigration, he addresses the impact of the development on Cleveland ISD and neighboring communities.

While Paxton does not cite these specific examples, they represent the types of concerns neighbors have complained about for years.

Neighboring communities have also complained about crime, traffic, destruction of roads, and rapidly growing burdens on the Plum Grove Volunteer Fire Department.

Too Much Chaos to be Tolerated

Paxton asks whether a settlement the size of Colony Ridge should have been allowed to grow that large without annexation or incorporation. By some estimates, Colony Ridge now has upwards of 40,000 people. If accurate, that would make it larger than the three largest cities in Liberty County combined!

Paxton says, “…this unincorporated settlement has drawn far too many people and enabled far too much chaos for the current arrangement to be tolerated by the state.” Boom.

Colony Ridge Business Model Caters to Cross-Border Settlement

Then Paxton talks about the business model used by Colony Ridge. “Texas has seen a growing trend of real estate developers buying huge quantities of undeveloped land, creating primitive subdivisions, and selling the bare lots in a practice often paired with offering minimal-down-payment, high-interest owner-financed loans,” he says.

“These loans require little identity verification. Lax development codes for unincorporated areas mean residents can crowd onto a property and the residential population can expand quickly.”

Paxton continues, “This form of real estate development and financing has created an attractive opportunity for noncitizens to cross the border and settle in Texas, with fast-growing developments the size of entire cities forcing nearby areas to struggle to adapt to—and even subsidize—the influx of new residents enriching the developers.

Unmanageable Size

“The scale of the Colony Ridge development has proved unmanageable for effective law enforcement and other key standards of acceptable governance,” he says. “Violent crime, drug trafficking, environmental deterioration, public disturbances, infrastructure overuse, and other problems have plagued the area and nearby towns.”

Distorting the Intent of Municipal Management Districts

In the next page and a half of Paxton’s letter, he details how the developers, with the help of State Senator Ernest Bailes and Senator Robert Nichols, perverted the intent of Texas Local Government Code which deals with the creation of Municipal Management Districts (MMDs).

MMDs were intended to revitalize and beautify already developed urban commercial areas. They were not intended to develop raw land, according to Paxton.

The Colony Ridge MMD controlled by the developer started with 5 acres then annexed tens of thousands of acres – also owned by the developer.

“…the managers of this district function as the unelected, unaccountable leaders of a city that is inhabited by an unknown population including unvetted foreign aliens and whose unsustainable growth is protected by a specific state carve-out,” says Paxton.

“The burden displaced onto the surrounding areas to subsidize public services needed by those residing in Colony Ridge is significant.”

Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General

Criticism of Two Texas Lawmakers

He adds, “I am beyond disappointed in Senator Nichols and Representative Bailes for apparently working to enrich specific developers at enormous expense to the rest of the public and reducing the quality of life for their own constituents.”

“It [Colony Ridge] is a sprawling, highly populated settlement that will soon outpace the population of many cities in Texas yet is ungoverned by any meaningful authority other than the developers whose primary interest is selling more property to new residents.”

Attacks Those Trying to Downplay Colony Ridge Problems

Paxton concludes by attacking journalists and politicians trying to downplay the problems caused by Colony Ridge. He says, “…the people of Texas … never assented to the creation of a sprawling unincorporated, ungoverned zone…”

To see the complete text of Paxton’s letter, click here.

$9.9 Million Paving Contract

Paxton does not mention this transaction specifically, but it falls under “enriching developers at the expense of the public.”

Note that the developer runs the MMD mentioned above. Also note how in these MMD board meeting minutes, the developer set the tax rate on his customers, gives his brother a $9.9 million paving contract and approves a reimbursement agreement for “the developer.”

The purpose of an MMD is to promote the public interest. But the developer is using his position as MMD president to defray his own costs. In a transaction that certainly raised my eyebrows, he and his board awarded a contract worth almost $10 million to Liberty Paving, a company controlled by his brother’s T-Rex Management Inc.

From opencorporates.com.

Normally, paving would be the developer’s cost.

Unpublished Pics of Colony Ridge

The developer has asserted that Colony Ridge is like any other community. All these photos below were taken on 10/6/2023, one day after the developer took several state legislators on a guided tour of the nicer areas in the development near the Grand Parkway – as the northern entrance flooded.

The neighborhood swimming pool.
Note tarp for roof and trees growing in another pool.
Colony Ridge residents often operate businesses from their homes.

Paxton’s letter points out that in 2019, “the developer insisted extra state funding was needed to accommodate the growth of residents because the area had so little commercial tax revenue.” No wonder those commercial taxes are down.

A backyard AC recycling business?
A backyard car repair business?
Used car lot in the front yard? Or car rental agency?
A Google search says these containers can hold chemicals, food and water. I am not sure what these held but the volume certainly goes beyond the needs of one family. Perhaps someone is smuggling in fresh water.

Next up: Will the Texas legislature take any meaningful action in its special session? Come back soon as the Austin action unfolds.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/19/23

2242 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Recommendations for Special Session of Texas Legislature on Colony Ridge

Today, the Texas legislature began another special session. On the agenda: Colony Ridge, the controversial Liberty County development in so many headlines lately.

Colony Ridge
Colony Ridge, the world’s largest trailer park, now covers approximately 20,000 acres, an area 50% larger than Manhattan.

During the last four years, I have published more than 60 articles about Colony Ridge. I have based them on countless drive throughs, flyovers, and interviews with residents, engineers and public officials.

I have seen with my own eyes, over and over again, many drainage and related infrastructure issues that the state legislature could address. In my opinion, the legislature should address the following.

Please forward this link to all your friends. Ask them to contact their state legislators in support of these recommendations.

List of Infrastructure Recommendations for Special Session

  • Get Liberty County to enforce its drainage regulations.
  • Protect downstream areas from Colony Ridge erosion by forcing the developer to comply with Liberty County regulations, including those that call for:
    • Planting grass on the side slopes of drainage channels and stormwater detention basins
    • Installing backslope interceptor swales and pipes to protect side slopes from sheet flow that causes erosion
    • Installing pilot channels along the bottom of detention basins
  • Tell TxDoT to fix FM1010, a vital evacuation route for tens of thousands of people.
  • Update state building codes to reduce squalor and make Texas eligible for more than a billion in FEMA BRIC funding which could help address Colony Ridge infrastructure issues.
  • Put teeth into the State Water Code Section 11.086 to ensure Colony Ridge and others provide adequate stormwater detention that helps protect downstream residents from flooding.
  • Create minimum drainage standards that:
    • Mandate use of Atlas 14 or latest FEMA rainfall rates
    • Require minimum detention rates of .55 acre feet per acre
    • Prohibit use of hydrograph timing surveys
    • Require “No net fill in current mapped 500-year floodplain”
    • Require minimum finished floor elevations of new structures above the 500-year flood elevation
  • Protect wetlands
  • Stiffen penalties for discharging sewage into waterways and ditches.

In addition, the state should:

  • Require local governments to preserve records and comply with TPIA/FOIA requests.
  • Prohibit “insider” business deals between elected/appointed officials and developers.

In regard to insider business deals, one of the Colony Ridge developers who controls the local MMD proposed giving a contract for almost $10 million to a paving company controlled by his family. I’m told the final figure actually approved was closer to $15 million. Shouldn’t the developer be responsible for that?

Why We Need Action

Everybody is downstream from somebody else. Or they will be someday. The purpose of the legislature is to develop rules that enable us all to live safely together. Colony Ridge issues affect people both upstream and downstream.

Downstream Impact

Downstream residents have had to pay tens of millions of dollars for dredging sediment in the San Jacinto River. Much of that sediment was contributed by Colony Ridge.

That sediment also contributed to flooding thousands of homes when it blocked the river.

Finally, the City of Houston is spending $1.77 billion dollars to build a water treatment plant that removes sediment and other pollutants coming into Lake Houston from Colony Ridge and places like it. And we spent another $381 million on the Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer Project to bring in water from the Trinity River.

So, we are spending more than $2.1 billion to bring in and clean up water that Colony Ridge is polluting. Stop the treadmill! Please!

Upstream Issues

Colony Ridge and Plum Grove residents have suffered, too. In addition to the drainage issues described in previous posts, here is a list of other infrastructure issues that a Colony Ridge property owner sent me:

  • Emergency evacuation routes limited and congested. Few ways in or out.
  • No street lights in most of the development.
  • No sidewalks
  • Kids are waiting for school buses on unlit street corners 
  • Aggressive dogs attack people when walking in the streets 
  • Minimal fire hydrants for our area
  • Cement plants in our neighborhood spew silica dust for miles without TCEQ or EPA permits
  • No school zone lights for school in Santa Fe 
  • Kids have no safe place to play outside due to unlawful discharge of firearms
  • Major traffic congestion; situation deteriorating 
  • Ambulances have trouble getting into area and back out to a hospital
  • Many missing street signs for traffic control (stop, yield, school zone, etc.)

Both Developer and Legislature Under a Microscope

It will be interesting to see whether the legislature actually does anything substantive about the infrastructure issues in Colony Ridge or whether they just deport a few people, declare a symbolic victory and continue accepting donations from the developer. Let’s be positive for now. Who thought things would ever get this far?!!!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/9/2023

2232 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.