Pueblo 5-year Report Card
August 4, 2017
In 2012, I wrote a post about my reasons for moving to Pueblo, Colorado. After approximately 5 years, 120,000 page views and 500 comments, it’s time for a report card to see how things have worked out.
Real Estate: A
One of the primary reasons for returning to my home town was to invest in Pueblo real estate. In 2010 you could drive around most parts of Pueblo and see obviously distressed properties on nearly every block. Foreclosures were almost the entirety of the market and buyers were few and far between. Now we have a seller’s market with insufficient inventory driving prices higher. Although Pueblo real estate is still very affordable compared to anywhere north along the Front Range, it’s no longer easy to find bargains, at least in residential property. And, due to the lengthy post-2008 construction slump, the supply-demand imbalance seems likely to persist and support steady or higher housing prices near term. Pretty solid turn-around, not unlike many parts of the country, but I think Pueblo’s prospects remain very strong thanks to population growth trends we’re seeing throughout Colorado.
If you’re a lifelong Pueblo native it may be difficult to imagine but a population wave is coming to Southern Colorado. It’s already hit Denver Metro expanding north and south, mostly along I-25, leaving high housing costs and traffic in its wake. The same wave that has filled in open spaces from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs will continue to move south, albeit at a slower pace. Pueblo is already seeing population growth and a lot more will come as high-flying housing prices and crushing traffic in Denver continue to push some residents to relocate. This wave of people seeking the good life in Colorado will generate demand for housing and Pueblo’s economy stands to benefit substantially. This also makes the next decade an important time for Pueblo to get its ducks in a row.
I love Pueblo’s mild, sunny, four-season climate. Think Albuquerque rather than Denver. Summers definitely feel hotter than they were in the 80s but winters are milder too. In the past year, I played golf on Thanksgiving and New Years Day. My style of golf involves no gear except for an 8-iron and a golf ball and I usually only play 3-4 holes, but still, we’re talking year round access to the great Colorado outdoors. The sunshine is particularly valuable as solar becomes a more viable and inexpensive source of energy. We installed rooftop solar in 2015 and it’s been a terrific investment, despite our fox-guarding-the-hen-house situation with Black Hills Energy. Thanks to bountiful solar radiation in Pueblo we produce more than enough electricity for our own needs plus we’re paid for net production. Life is good when Black Hills pays you and not the other way around.
The top concern I hear from prospective Pueblo residents is crime. If you read the comments on my original Why Pueblo post you’ll see many are wary of finding themselves in a dangerous neighborhood. I did a deep dive on crime data this past fall to counter dishonest claims made by the Pueblo Chieftain Editorial Board and a band of like-minded partisans who called themselves Citizens for a Healthy Pueblo (now they call themselves ProPueblo but they should consider renaming themselves Pro-Status-Quo-Pueblo because their primary objective is to keep Pueblo the way it is, complete with vision-free community leadership and a stagnant economy). Despite their efforts to use scare tactics and anecdote to tie marijuana legalization to increased criminal activity, it just ain’t so. They also blame marijuana on the increase in homeless population but they don’t have a shred of proof, nor any meaningful understanding of statistical correlation.
Perhaps because many among them have ties to local hospitals they remain unwilling to acknowledge their own role in creating the real drug problem infecting our community: the Opioid Epidemic. I think a serious effort to understand the true cause of criminal behavior in Pueblo would show a strong connection to opioid and heroin traffic and abuse. Prove me wrong ProPueblo!
K-12 Education: D
The biggest disappointment to me in Pueblo is the sorry state of primary education. The problem is partly driven by national politicized anti-education forces but Pueblo seems to be doing a particularly poor job of defending and nourishing its public schools. There are certainly bright spots in District 60 and District 70 (see my analysis for 3rd Grade, 7th Grade and 10th Grade math performance) and I know families whose children are thriving in Pueblo schools but, overall, Pueblo is failing to provide an adequate primary education system. There are several reasons Pueblo schools are struggling.
Failure of Local Leadership – a few years ago District 60 hired Constance Jones as Superintendent and, from my vantage point, she was doing the right things to improve Pueblo schools. But the D60 school board inexplicably forced her out. I don’t really know the reasoning and it doesn’t seem anyone else in the community really knows either. Check the Pueblo Pulp for an excellent series of articles on the fiasco. I think it comes down to a systemic problem in just about every facet of business in Pueblo. There is a circle-the-wagons mentality. We desperately need outside expertise for Pueblo to grow and prosper but the powers that be in Pueblo prefer to repel the same experts who are in the best position to help the community. I’ve seen this through the lens of a few personal friends who came to Pueblo to run an organization or a department or a business and were essentially forced out because they were too aggressive about pursuing best practices and doing what’s right for their organization. Sadly, small-mindedness runs rampant in Pueblo and holds the community back from reaching its full potential.
Inadequate Private School Options – Pueblo doesn’t have a single private high school. This is really a major problem. Families need options. I suspect both Parkview and St. Mary Corwin have a very difficult time convincing top medical talent to move to Pueblo and I am willing to wager that a top concern is inadequate educational opportunities for children. Private schools in Colorado Springs, including Fountain Valley School, the Colorado Springs School and St. Mary’s Academy, are all enrolling Pueblo students to fill the gap. I’ve heard St. Therese (in Pueblo) has some sort of high school option but my impression is that you can count the number of students enrolled on one hand. It’s also obvious to me that Pueblo needs at least one private school on the north side of the city. All current private school options I’m aware of are south of the Arkansas river while the vast majority of recent residential growth is on the north side of the city. Here’s an idea – use some of the Pedco money to provide a grant for a non-profit to start a private school in the vacant Somerlid Elementary campus on West Street between 27th and 28th. Personally, I favor Montessori methods but any non-sectarian approach will do. I’m willing to bet the 5-year ROI (if it could be accurately measured) would outshine Pewag, Vesta, and any other Pedco-sponsored employer in terms of net positive economic impact.
Political Collateral Damage – just like everywhere in the US, public schools and teacher unions are under attack. In the current anti-civilization political climate championed by the GOP, public schools and public educators are systematically denigrated. In a country where Betsy DeVos is Education Secretary it’s difficult to see how public schools will recover near term. If anything this situation is worse in Pueblo thanks to biased reporting by the Pueblo Chieftain. As if being a teacher answering to demanding parents, administrators and students wasn’t difficult enough they must also deal with the politics of education policy. No wonder so few talented people are pursuing teaching careers.
Sprawl – as people continue to move from within Pueblo city limits to Pueblo West, Blende/Avondale, Beulah, Rye and elsewhere, the tax base for D60 continues to decline. This is a self-reinforcing downward spiral. I’ve written about the problem with sprawl in Pueblo West elsewhere and it’s part of the reason I advocate a toll booth between Pueblo and Pueblo West to counteract the sprawl-induced economic damage. I’m not the only one with this point of view. Joe Minicozzi, an urban planning expert who spoke at a recent Colorado Downtown Inc conference in Pueblo, had this quote published in the Chieftain:
On a per-acre basis, Pueblo West’s high infrastructure costs and relatively low property valuations and tax contributions hurt the economic health of the entire Pueblo area, particularly the city of Pueblo, he said. “It’s just going to drag the whole county down in the process,” said Minicozzi, known nationally for his work on analyzing the economic impact of land use.
Overall, I’ve loved living in Pueblo. I wish I could issue an A grade. It’s my home town and I feel very comfortable investing in Pueblo despite all these challenges. And, I’ll continue to be in Pueblo as I run a technology business with an office in downtown Pueblo, I teach Statistics in the Hasan School of Business at CSU-Pueblo and I own rental properties in Pueblo. But, primarily due to personal struggles with the education system in Pueblo (and we bear as much responsibility for mistakes as any school or district – it’s no picnic advocating for the educational needs of individual children these days), our kids are attending school in Colorado Springs and have been for the past 3 years. As a result my wife and kids’ social circle is in Colorado Springs. And, to make life more convenient for my wife and kids, we have recently relocated to Colorado Springs.
I suppose this will be good fodder for those who want to poke fun at my original blog post and subsequent comments promoting Pueblo. Ha ha, Mr. Pueblo moved to Springs! Have fun with that. But, at the end of the day, I’m not married to Pueblo, I’m married to my beautiful, amazing wife and committed to doing what’s best for our family. So, I’ll be commuting from southwest Colorado Springs for the foreseeable future. And I’m willing to pay a toll for the privilege of doing business in the great city of Pueblo … so long as Pueblo West residents are paying the same toll.
By the way, our house in Pueblo is for sale. Make me an offer and you too can get paid by Black Hills. 🙂
Justin, thank you for your update on Pueblo. To your knowledge, do you know if there are any plans for the Somerlid campus? Do you know if there are any plans to start a private high school on the north side?
I’m not aware of any plans for Somerlid or for a private high school on the north side. I just think it would be good for Pueblo.
Pueblo has two basic problems it is an uneducated and poor community it is like a dog chasing its tail! Until Pueblo improves the education of its citizens we will continue to wander to making foolish decisions for this community!
Too many to list !,
Justin, thanks for your reply. I have many questions about starting a school in Pueblo and relocating there in general. Would it be ok if I contacted you from time to time as a resource about these things?
Hi Justin, I came across your blog about Pueblo – great info! I am relocating west from the east coast and have narrowed it down to a couple areas to settle on. It would seem that I am similarly situated as you are/were. I am self-employed doing IT work (and work from home), so I can basically live anywhere, so long as there is a good, reliable internet connection. My customers are all over the country, so I do not need to rely on local work. (Although I do from time to time hire some local help with bigger projects – and take the odd side job that may come along) – So from reading your post and replies, I assume the best places to live are north of the Arkansas River and west of I-25? How about Pueblo West? I see alot of affordable rentals available there. I am looking to rent for a year or so before we buy – that way we can look around first. I appreciate any feedback you can give me! (Email if ok)
You might want to read through comments on my original Pueblo post. Use keyword “Aberdeen” to find a list of neighborhoods I recommend on various sides of town. I also have a “Pueblo neighborhood” post you might enjoy. Look me up when you get settled. I’m in the software business and we might be able to help each other. Or feel free to use my contact form to begin an email conversation.
I am disabled. Have $40,000. Seeking quiet and modest accommodations in order to write fiction. Pueblo is looking to be the place. Rather have rural location because also desire a chicken coop. Thanks.
I read your blogs about Pueblo.Thank you for taking the time to write as well as your honesty.
I myself love Pueblo. I got my undergrad in Computer science from CSU-Pueblo. Like yourself I have been in high tech business for past 25 years. I always wanted to come back to Pueblo. Recently, I changed jobs and now I work from home supporting many teams in US and Canada.
Last week I traveled to Colorado spring and Pueblo to see if I still like it. I realized my feeling for Pueblo is alive and well. I looked at some properties in Aberdeen and country club neighborhoods. Both were nice but the Aberdeen ones were too big for me. I am a very active/outdoor person and single. My son is already in college, although Pueblo school system affect everyone indirectly but it does not impact me directly. Appreciate your thoughts on any pitfalls and What do think about the cuntry club neighborhood?
I love the Country Club neighborhood. I lived there in High School and for the past 5 years. It’s a great neighborhood with lots of terrific people. And the Pueblo Country Club golf course, swimming pool and clubhouse/restaurant are all top notch.
I am so glad I came across your bolg. My husband and I are looking to relocate from TN to Pueblo to be close to family. We have a son in Denver and 1 that just moved to Monument. Can you tell us a good area to look at. We will be selling our home so will have enough to buy. We are retired and prefer living on an acre or 2. Any help would great. Thanks, Sandy
If you want some acreage you could look (1) “out in the County” which means out in Blende/Avondale area, (2) south near Colorado City or Rye, (3) southwest near Beulah, or (4) in Pueblo West. Lots of landscape variety to choose from so can’t really recommend any particular location. If it was me wanting acreage I’d probably opt for Beulah or Rye because I like mountains. But none of these locations offer much convenience and you’ll be driving a lot.
Hi Justin. I found Pueblo looking for a house. What I have found sounds like my perfect climate, in a state that is drop dead gorgeous. Me and my partner have some money, not 200k or anything, but we can safely move. Were not skilled (You know, Home Depot, Target ect …) Could we rent a 500Mo house and live on trash wages in a place like Pueblo? I used to have a 350Mo apartment with a job that basically payed $20 a day x2 and we made it work, this time we both have decent wheels and 100ish K. I hate Minnesota, I want to leave. We could make it in Pueblo, and I would have a place to take my Jeep out 😉 *sigh* Fall down twice, get up three times they say, its so true, keep going!
You wouldn’t get much for $500/month but it’s not impossible if you’re flexible on neighborhood characteristics. You’d find many more options in the $600-800 range and, split among two incomes, seems financially feasible. You might also consider purchasing a home, maybe a fixer if you have skills, for under $100k and either service an affordable mortgage payment or pay cash and eliminate rent/mortgage. I think with some effort and patience (and again neighborhood flexibility), you could find something in the $50-75k range to fit the bill. Hope this helps.