It’s a beautiful Sunday in Pueblo, warm for winter with a slight breeze, and I’m spending it surrounded by what seems like hazardous debris. My guide for the day, Lori Winner, is a local activist and the operator of the Pueblo House of Shame Facebook page.
The House of Shame Page has been a local and social force, though contentiously, to shame property owners, and sometimes the city of Pueblo into taking action against, well, Houses of Shame.
The page itself isn’t shy about putting the most embarrassing properties on social media. House of Shame is a smattering of photos of neglected properties, complaints of property values but also arguments of who to blame.
And Lori Winner isn’t shy about making sure the city of Pueblo does something with them.
How long have you been a part of the Pueblo community?
I was born and grew up here in Pueblo. When I was a child, Pueblo was pristine. It didn’t matter what neighborhood you lived in. After I graduated from high school, I lived in Denver for nine years, moved with my husband to Cabo San Lucas, and from there to Breckenridge for 16 years. After that moved back to Pueblo. Basically making a giant circle that brought me back to home.
When did you first notice that there was a problem with property maintenance here in Pueblo?
I have been a serious activist here in Pueblo since 2010. When I moved back in 2004, I was just complaining about the abandoned and blighted properties until I realized that I can’t just sit here and complain about it. I’ve got to try to change it if I can. Along the way I realized that it wasn’t just me that was concerned about all this. So many people in the community are concerned about it. There are real simple answers to it and that’s basic code enforcement, from cleaning up clutter and getting trash out of yards to taking care of abandoned buildings here in Pueblo.
You seem to take an aggressive stance on property upkeep. Enough to devote time and effort running a page to spotlight it. Is there a specific reason you feel so strongly about it?
Well you know it has to do with property values. When folks have their entire retirement and investment in a property and the property values come down because of the blight of a neighbor and made worse by a lack of strict code enforcement, it can make your property impossible to sell. It can really ruin lives.
There are lots of young families moving to Pueblo, and I believe we are losing a lot of potential homeowners to Pueblo West. I know a few doctors who actually live in Colorado Springs because their wives refuse to live here in town because of blight.
Do you think Pueblo is behind you in your endeavors?
Yes, I do.
Some have said that the House of Shame page degrades people who simply can’t afford upkeep on their homes. How do you feel about that assessment?
Well, an abandoned home has nothing to do with upgrades. Its owner has left it. It has nothing to do with being able to afford it or not. Or if you have a rich person that owns 20 properties that are keeping them vacant, depending on (code enforcement) not to do their job and creating tax credits for themselves doesn’t have anything to do with being able to afford upkeep of property. When there are comments like that on the page, I feel like they can’t see the whole picture or are just looking to start a bizarre argument. Most of the time I just ignore it and most people on the page don’t respond to it either.
How often do you receive calls asking you to post about a new property?
You know, I probably get one or two a day. Also, quite a few through Facebook.
Do you believe in the broken window theory?
I do, and have given a copy of its study to every council member of prior to the current session.
How much responsibility do you feel falls on the city in regard to property upkeep?
Oh, 100 percent of it, as far as enforcement. Absolutely. I think most people do care for their properties just fine. But 80 percent of the problem is caused by 20 percent of the population, but code enforcement is failing to do their job on that 20 percent.
If you ran the show, how would you differently enforce property cleanup?
There are currently five code enforcement officers. You and I know where the bad properties are, so I don’t know why five enforcement officers don’t know where they’re at. Also, they’ve also just been given laptops for their cars. We need to see them be more proactive and get out of the office to see what’s going on. Also, you and I shouldn’t have to make a formal complaint as a neighbor and start friction between you and your neighbor. Police don’t offer tickets for speeding if your neighbor calls. They’re proactive about it. Also, I would start being more forceful on main and gateway streets, because from there [cleanup] spreads into neighborhoods.
What are your hopes for Pueblo when it comes to revitalization and civic improvement?
Pueblo is full of great people. The population as a whole is a very generous population and it’s a very friendly place and for the most part is a pretty health-oriented city, but there’s a stigma that seems to say otherwise. I would like to see people to graduate from CSU, stay here and and and be confident that if they purchase a home here it’s gonna hold its value because code enforcement and the city will help protect its value. I mean look at Solar Roast. They chose this city because of the weather. It’s great for recreation like water sports and running. This is a great town to run in. There’s just so many positives that aren’t promoted. It’s really the best city to live in.