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Who’s buying homes in this Pueblo’s sellers market?

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Retirees seem to be a common thread when weaving a tapestry to represent the diverse types of homebuyers now flooding Pueblo’s real estate market.

“Baby Boomers like me,” is how Susan McCarthy of Coldwell Banker in Pueblo enthusiastically responds when asked who is buying homes.

Although Gary Miller, broker/owner of Remax of Pueblo Inc., lists an array of recent homebuyers, he does spend a lot of time addressing retirees. Saying that many older buyers who are local and from outside the area are looking to get out of their larger or high-maintenance homes to homes requiring much less upkeep. He says some buyers are leaving the Denver area.

“Retirees from Denver don’t want to have to put up with all the traffic,” Miller says, adding that couples living in Denver for 35 years are finding homes in Pueblo that on average cost 50 percent less than what they can find in Northern Colorado.

But to look at just retirees is to miss an entire forest of homebuyers. Miller says no one seems to have demographics on who is buying homes in the Pueblo area. A call to the Pueblo County Assessor’s office also reveals that government entity does not keep track of who is buying homes here.

Miller says at his Remax office about 75 percent of the homebuyers are from the area, but cautions that the 25 percent outside-of-Pueblo buyers represent a significant number.

“Our population has increased,” he says, adding that in addition to retirees there are a number of out-of-town buyers coming to take jobs at places like the Colorado State University, Pueblo, and area hospitals.

For the record, Pueblo County’s population as of July 2016 was 165.123, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, or nearly a 4 percent increase from April 2010.

Miller says a significant chunk of the local home-buying market is a result of what he calls “new family formation” or kids wanting to be free from mom and dad now that the economy is gradually starting to improve.

Miller describes the Pueblo area as experiencing a sense of relief from years of pent up home-buying frustration, which had been due to an uncertain economy. The bad economy had created a large inventory of unsold homes in the Pueblo market that is now shrinking because consumers seem more confident.

In addition to retirees, jobseekers and young adults looking to leave the nest, Miller says divorcees also are represented in Pueblo’s home-sale surge as evidenced by the growing number of single people buying homes.

Scott Moore, a Coldwell Banker real estate executive who handles primarily out-of-town homebuyers, describes himself as a third generation Pueblo business leader.

“It’s so hard to generalize right now,” Moore says when asked who’s buying homes in the area. He says the buyers are not only coming from the Denver area, people are buying homes from as far off as the East Coast and West Coast. He adds that buyers from out of state are attracted to Pueblo’s low cost of living and abundant water supply citing Lake Pueblo as a big draw.

Moore, who also mentioned retirees as among the out-of-towners moving here, says that the Pueblo market’s offering of homes at between $100,000 and $250,000 is unheard of in most markets not only in Denver and along the Front Range (i.e. Colorado Springs) but in other parts of the country as well.

Also military folk from Fort Carson have added “a whole nother niche” for home sellers. Miller says military personnel and others are attracted to Pueblo’s amenities citing the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo and the area’s climate in addition to the aforementioned Pueblo Reservoir area.

Moore says Pueblo is on “a path of progress” and predicts that new industries coming to the area will keep the housing market here booming. “I am excited about the future of the community,” he says.

Yet Pueblo soon may not have the enough homes to handle the growing number of buyers. Kevin Cooter, chairman of the Pueblo Association of Realtors, says.

“Right now in Pueblo (east, south, north, westside) there are 235 listings with a median asking price of $162,000,” Cooter says, adding that a year ago the median selling price was $134,000 and over the past year since July 2016 homes were selling at the rate of 146 per month.

“That means we only have a 49-day supply of inventory  –  DEFINITELY a seller’s market,” Cooter says. “Up until a couple years ago, it’s almost always has been a buyer’s market, which is typically defined as a five- to six-month supply of inventory. Ninety percent of homes are priced over $70,000 in Pueblo. The median asking price has gone up over 20 percent in the last 12 months.”

As for Pueblo West, Cooter says there are currently 76 homes for sale at a median asking price of $270,000. Over the past year there were 58 homes per month sold in Pueblo West at an average of $225,000 each, which translates to a 40-day supply of inventory there.

So given the fact that there doesn’t seem to be enough homes, why doesn’t the community build more?

It is, according to Tom Hausman of the Pueblo Association of Home Builders.

Hausman, who is also the land developer of Crestwood Hills (a single-family residential neighborhood on Pueblo’s northside), says 180 building permits were issued in Pueblo County from the beginning of the year till June 30. That compares with 120 for the same six-month period in 2016, 82 in 2015 and 80 in 2014.

But building within the city limits is getting more difficult. Hausman explains: “Of particular note is the percentage of permits issued in the county versus the city. In recent years the activity has been evenly split. However, with the dwindling supply of lots in city limits, the ratio (of city to county permits) this year has been 2 to 3.”

And between changes in building code requirements and so many building materials price increases, Hausman says the average cost of new construction has increased as much as 20 percent over the past three years – further hindering a greater building boom needed to keep up with Pueblo’s demand.

But that hasn’t discouraged homebuilders.

“With this rebounding economy of late, there have been a number of different contractors who exited during the recession who are re-entering the market now,” Hausman says. He agrees with Cooter that there is a one- to two-month supply of existing homes for sale now and that, he says, compares with a six-month supply two years ago.

Yet Hausman, like Cooter and others consulted for this story, hasn’t seen any statistics that address who the buyers of these new homes are.

As to where the buyers are coming from, Cooter says:

“I attribute the increased asking prices to be a result of the economic laws of supply and demand. We’ve noticed a lot more agents coming down from Colorado Springs since their prices have increased over typical affordability for Colorado Springs clients.” He adds the Springs is also experiencing lower inventory because Denver home prices are “astronomical” and real estate agents there were taking their potential buyers down to the Colorado Springs area.

As for retirees, Cooter says they are opting to buy single-family homes in Pueblo and Pueblo West at the same price ($135,000 let’s say) as they would pay for a small condo in Denver or Colorado Springs.

Also a major home-buying influence is Colorado’s growing economy, which is being buoyed by the marijuana industry. “There is no surprise why this has happened in Colorado over the last few years,” Cooter says. “The major industry change to the marijuana industry has put substantial income into coffers of the Colorado treasury. The state and our county are flush with tax revenue and it appears our state and county populations are growing because of the increasing interest.”

Yet let’s not forget about Pueblo’s attributes.

“Pueblo’s a great place to live, anyway,” Cooter says, Over 300 days of sunshine each year, close to the mountains, nearby the state reservoir, the Riverwalk project and revitalization of the downtown Union Ave. historic areas, (low) economic living conditions, a local airport and Vestas windmill (tower) company, the big GCC cement and Black Hills Energy plants just south of Pueblo.”

Yet although part of the focus of the real estate industry has been on retirees, the real estate professionals we spoke with in Pueblo agree that those buying homes here are a broad range of buyers attracted to the area’s amenities and low cost of living.

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Push to legalize marijuana upends governor’s race in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on Thursday called for the expansion of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and for legalization of recreational use, saying the poverty-stricken state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues and jobs that could be spurred by the industry.

Apodaca released his plan solidifying his position as a supporter of legalization as the race for governor heats up.

Apodaca pointed to New Mexico’s history as the first state to allow for research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug. It was his father, then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who signed that legislation in 1978.

The research program stalled and it wasn’t until 2008 that New Mexico rolled out its medical cannabis program.

“Why are we shooting for being the last to legalize cannabis for adult use?” Apodaca said.

The push for legalization comes as New Mexico’s medical marijuana program has grown exponentially in just the last two years. Producers licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86 million in 2017 and the number of patients enrolled now tops 50,000.

“We know the medical benefits of it. And we also know the opportunities of legalization for adult use,” Apodaca said, suggesting expansion of the long-standing medical marijuana program along with legalization could result in an estimated $200 million of additional tax revenues for the state.

The state’s largest producer, Ultra Health, announced that it has acquired farmland in southern New Mexico and has plans for what the industry says could be the largest cultivation facility in North America.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile (81 hectares) in Otero County. It will include 20 acres (8 hectares) of indoor cultivation, 80 acres (32 hectares) of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres (40 hectares) of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from expanded medical use and possibly recreational use.

Apodaca’s plan calls for lifting the current limits on the number of plants producers can grow and reducing costly licensing fees.

Other Democratic candidates have been more cautious.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would work with state lawmakers to ensure there are adequate health, safety and enforcement measures in place. She called for a “thorough analysis” of recreational pot programs in other states as part of that effort.

Lujan Grisham was in charge of the state Health Department when the medical marijuana program began. Aside from the legalization debate, she said supporting producers to create the latest medicines and methods to help patients would help create jobs and expand the industry.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, another Democratic candidate, has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state is lacking infrastructure and isn’t ready yet to legalize.

Cervantes recently lauded efforts at the local level by the state’s largest city — Albuquerque — to decriminalize possession of small amounts. He said he would do the same as governor and that it would mark a first step.

Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization at a forum earlier this month. He said it might create a stumbling block for people trying to climb out of poverty and addiction to other drugs.

“I just don’t see how it fits that we’re going to deal with addiction and yet we’re going to tell people, ‘This one is OK.’ I’ve watched it for a lifetime. I just am very nervous with recreational marijuana,” he said.

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‘For fun’ killing reveals vulnerability for homeless Native Americans in New Mexico

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The morning a homeless man was shot and killed in Albuquerque, police say surveillance videos showed him running down a street before sunrise, and then gunfire flash in the dark.

Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

Ronnie Ross, a 50-year-old from the Navajo Nation town of Shiprock, had been shot a dozen times, including once in the forehead and temple, and four times in the back, according to a criminal complaint. Police say the two teenage suspects charged with murder this week apparently shot him “for fun” as they came and went from a hotel party nearby.

The homicide marked the latest in a series of brazen killings and assaults of homeless Native Americans in the city. In Albuquerque, Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

A 2014 survey showed 75 percent of homeless Native Americans in Albuquerque had been physically assaulted.

“Just being harassed is part of everyday life, but it’s not as much harassment as it is overgrown bullying,” said Gordon Yawakia, who works at the Albuquerque Indian Center and was once homeless himself. “What do you do when people are against you and then the authorities are against you and you’ve got nobody, you know?”

In 2014, Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson, both Navajo, were beaten to death as they slept in a vacant lot. While authorities did not say the men were targeted because they were Native American, activists disagreed and the deaths spurred the creation of a city task force to address Native American homelessness that now-former Mayor Richard Berry said could set the stage for changes for the population across the Southwest.

Now, Ross’ death is underscoring how difficult it may be to protect and find solutions for the city’s Native American homeless population.

“When I hear a story like this it adds fuel to the fire,” said Dawn Begay, who is the city’s tribal liaison, and works with the homeless through a local nonprofit. “Where we’re headed is a good direction but it has to happen faster.”

Ross’ killing in March came three months after the body of Audra Willis was found decapitated in an area not far from the Sandia Mountains that line the city’s east side. The 39-year-old had come from To’hajiilee, a tiny Navajo community west of Albuquerque, and records show she had multiple addresses during her time in the city, including at the Albuquerque Indian Center.

Willis’ especially grisly death sent shockwaves through Albuquerque, just as the beatings of Thompson and Gorman had three years earlier.

The two men had been killed on a July 2014 night when authorities say three boys — ages 15, 16 and 18_returned home from a night of drinking and decided to attack them as they slept on a mattress. The men were beaten with a wooden table leg, cinder blocks, and other objects, police said. One young suspect later told authorities that the teens had beaten dozens of homeless people, though apparently none others fatally.

In Ross’ death, the complaint filed against the 15- and 17-year-old suspects does not identify a motive, but says the two teenagers bragged to friends about the shooting.

According to police, friends and acquaintances of the boys — whom The Associated Press is not naming because of their ages — said the suspects had been showing off a gun at the party, and had said to others that they had shot a man. At one point, the younger boy also said to a close friend at the party that he shot a “hobo” in the back.

The boys made one more stop at the scene to find Ross still alive, prompting the older boy to shoot him multiple times, according to the complaint.

“It’s completely disturbing,” said Officer Simon Drobik, an Albuquerque police spokesman, said Tuesday. “They just shot this guy for fun.”

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The Last Castro; Raul retires as Cuban president

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Raul Castro turned over Cuba’s presidency Thursday to a 57-year-old successor he said would hold power until 2031, a plan that would place the state the Castro brothers founded and ruled for 60 years in the hands of a Communist Party official little known to most on the island.

Castro’s 90-minute valedictory speech offered his first clear vision for the nation’s future power structure under new President Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez. Castro said he foresees the white-haired electronics engineer serving two five-year terms as leader of the Cuban government, and taking the helm of the Communist Party, the country’s ultimate authority, when Castro leaves the powerful position in 2021.

“From that point on, I will be just another soldier defending this revolution,” Castro said. The 86-year-old general broke frequently from his prepared remarks to joke and banter with officials on the dais in the National Assembly, saying he looked forward to having more time to travel the country.

In his own half-hour speech to the nation, Diaz-Canel pledged to preserve Cuba’s communist system while gradually reforming the economy and making the government more responsive to the people.

“There’s no space here for a transition that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle,” Diaz-Canel said. “For us, it’s totally clear that only the Communist Party of Cuba, the guiding force of society and the state, guarantees the unity of the nation of Cuba.”

Diaz-Canel said he would work to implement a long-term plan laid out by the National Assembly and communist party that would continue allowing the limited growth of private enterprises like restaurants and taxis, while leaving the economy’s most important sectors such as energy, mining, telecommunications, medical services and rum- and cigar-production in the hands of the state.

“The people have given this assembly the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial, historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance of the modernization of our social and economic model,” Diaz-Canel said.

Cubans said they expected their new president to deliver improvements to the island’s economy, which remains stagnant and dominated by inefficient, unproductive state-run enterprises that are unable to provide salaries high enough to cover basic needs. The average monthly pay for state workers is roughly $30 a month, forcing many to steal from their workplaces and depend on remittances from relatives abroad.

“I hope that Diaz-Canel brings prosperity,” said Richard Perez, a souvenir salesman in Old Havana. “I want to see changes, above all economic changes allowing people to have their own businesses, without the state in charge of so many things.”

But in Miami, Cuban-Americans said they didn’t expect much from Diaz-Canel.

“It’s a cosmetic change,” said Wilfredo Allen, a 66-year-old lawyer who left Cuba two years after the Castros’ 1959 revolution. “The reality is that Raul Castro is still controlling the Communist Party. We are very far from having a democratic Cuba.”

After formally taking over from his older brother Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro launched a series of reforms that led to a rapid expansion of Cuba’s private sector and burgeoning use of cellphones and the internet. Cuba today has a vibrant real estate market and one of the world’s fastest-growing airports. Tourism numbers have more than doubled since Castro and President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations in 2015, making Cuba a destination for nearly 5 million visitors a year, despite a plunge in relations under the Trump administration.

Castro’s moves to open the economy even further have largely been frozen or reversed as soon as they began to generate conspicuous displays of wealth by the new entrepreneurial class in a country officially dedicated to equality among its citizens. Foreign investment remains anemic and the island’s infrastructure is falling deeper into disrepair. The election of President Donald Trump dashed dreams of detente with the U.S., and after two decades of getting Venezuelan subsidies totaling more than $6 billion a year, Cuba’s patron has collapsed economically, with no replacement in the wings.

Castro’s inability or unwillingness to fix Cuba’s structural problems with deep and wide-ranging reforms has many wondering how a successor without Castro’s founding-father credentials will manage the country over the next five or 10 years.

“I want the country to advance,” said Susel Calzado, a 61-year-old economics professor. “We already have a plan laid out.”

Most Cubans have known their new president as an uncharismatic figure who until recently maintained a public profile so low it was virtually nonexistent. Castro’s declaration Thursday that he saw Diaz-Canel in power for more than a decade was likely to resolve much of the uncertainty about the power the new president would wield inside the Cuban system.

“The same thing we’re doing with him, he’ll have to do with his successor,” Castro said. “When his 10 years of service as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers are over, he’ll have three years as first secretary in order to facilitate the transition. This will help us avoid mistakes by his successor, until (Diaz-Canel) retires to take care of the grandchildren he will have then, if he doesn’t have them already, or his great-grandchildren.”

Cuban state media said Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Diaz-Canel and thanked Castro for the many years of cooperation between the two countries, while Chinese President Xi Jinping also reaffirmed his country’s friendship with Cuba and expressed interest in deeper ties.

At the U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert expressed disappointment at the handover, saying Cuban citizens “had no real power to affect the outcome” of what she called the “undemocratic transition” that brought Diaz-Canal to the presidency.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted at Castro that the U.S. won’t rest until Cuba “has free & fair elections, political prisoners are released & the people of Cuba are finally free!”

Diaz-Canel said his government would be willing to talk with the United States but rejected all demands for changes in the Cuban system.

With Castro watching from the audience, Diaz-Canel made clear that for the moment he would defer to the man who founded the Cuban communist system along with his brother Fidel. He said he would retain Castro’s cabinet through at least July, when the National Assembly meets again.

“I confirm to this assembly that Raul Castro, as first secretary of the Communist Party, will lead the decisions about the future of the country,” Diaz-Canel said. “Cuba needs him, providing ideas and proposals for the revolutionary cause, orienting and alerting us about any error or deficiency, teaching us, and always ready to confront imperialism.”

Diaz-Canel first gained prominence in central Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post equivalent to governor. People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services. He became higher education minister in 2009 before moving into the vice presidency.

In a video of a Communist Party meeting that inexplicably leaked to the public last year, Diaz-Canel expressed a series of orthodox positions that included somberly pledging to shutter some independent media and labeling some European embassies as outposts of foreign subversion.

But he has also defended academics and bloggers who became targets of hard-liners, leading some to describe him a potential advocate for greater openness in a system intolerant of virtually any criticism or dissent. International observers and Cubans alike will be scrutinizing every move he makes in coming days and weeks.

As in Cuba’s legislative elections, all of the leaders selected Wednesday were picked by a government-appointed commission. Ballots offered only the option of approval or disapproval and candidates generally receive more than 95 percent of the votes in their favor. Diaz-Canel was approved by 604 votes in the 605-member assembly. It was unclear if he had abstained or someone else had declined to endorse him.

The assembly also approved another six vice presidents of the Council of State, Cuba’s highest government body. Only one, 85-year-old Ramiro Valdes, was among the revolutionaries who fought with the Castros in the late 1950s in the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains.

___

Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report.

 

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