About 1.8 million Californians – primarily Latinos – live in low-income, unincorporated communities that lack sewers, clean drinking water, sidewalks, streetlights or gutters – infrastructure known to curb public health and safety risks. There are an estimated 438 of these communities in California, and they've been neglected and overlooked for decades in part because they can be hard to find. The U.S. Census Bureau only tracks some of them, and federal tallies of characteristics like income often diverge markedly from more localized surveys. Without hard numbers, advocates have found it difficult to argue effectively for change. State legislation that went into effect this year, however, requires local governments to identify and consider these communities in urban planning efforts.
Parklawn is an unincorporated island near the cities of Modesto and Ceres, and it's one of at least four disenfranchised islands in Modesto. Residents rely on failing septic tanks, and although a city sewer line runs adjacent to the community, residents can't access it.
|Hispanic or Latino||81.5%||41.9%|
|Median household income||$32,902
(Local survey reports much lower: $18,999)
Lanare is an unincorporated rural community that's 30 miles outside of Fresno. Residents pay at least $54 a month for arsenic-contaminated tap water and spend an additional $25 on bottled water for drinking and cooking.
|Hispanic or Latino||88.1%||50.3%|
|Median household income||$42,813
(Local survey reports much lower: $22,000-$25,999)
Matheny Tract is a neighborhood of houses and mobile homes bordered by farmland and cheese processing plants three miles from Tulare's city center. Although residents can sometimes smell the city sewer plant that's about two miles away, residents can't yet connect to the system and instead use aging septic tanks.
|Matheny Tract||Tulare County|
|Hispanic or Latino||73.4%||60.6%|
|Median household income||$33,309||$43,851|
One among a cluster of unincorporated towns in the Eastern Coachella Valley, Thermal is a rural community dotted with a number of mobile home parks – dozens of which lack permits to operate. In the worst cases, residents depend on aging septic tanks and cesspools, or they don't have access to clean drinking water.
|Hispanic or Latino||95.3%||45.5%|
|Median household income||$33,988||$57,768|
Sources: 2010 U.S. Census, American Community Survey's five-year estimates (2006-2010), PolicyLink, Self-Help Enterprises and California Rural Legal Assistance