Loveland ranks in the top three spots in Colorado, according to a new ranking from USA Today Homefront.

Loveland ranks in the top three spots in Colorado, according to a new ranking from USA Today Homefront.

With fewer people moving across state lines, and population growth slowing, places within Colorado will have to compete harder with each other to attract new residents.

But where can future residents find the biggest bang for the buck?

Grand Junction, Littleton and Loveland are the top three spots in Colorado, according to a new ranking from USA Today Homefront.

Denver and Aurora rank near the bottom, while Boulder and Colorado Springs make the top 10.

Homefront, after surveying Texas and Florida, looked at 21 municipalities and one census-designated place, Highlands Ranch, with a population of 40,000 or more in Colorado. Each location was scored on 16 metrics including crime rate, quality of schools, walkability, health care access, risk of natural disasters, housing affordability and the availability of restaurants and activities.

“We wanted to provide homeowners with the best recommendations about where to move if they wanted to move,” said Hailey Ness, a researcher at Homefront.

Grand Junction scored highly for housing affordability, health care access, a mild climate and plentiful activities and restaurants. The Western Slope city held its own on crime and school district quality. Homefront labeled it as one of Colorado’s “best-kept secrets.”

“The Grand Junction area is a gem not just in Colorado, but nationally. We feel like we as a community have done an incredible job in diversifying our economy,” said Curtis Englehart, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

A milder climate and the state’s second-highest per capita concentration of primary care providers make the region attractive to retirees. At the same time, an abundance of wineries, breweries and outdoor activities, not to mention job opportunities, are a draw for younger adults.

“You have an outdoor playground in your background. You can ski in the morning and mountain bike in the afternoon,” Englehart said.

All that can be had at the second lowest housing cost in the state after Pueblo. At an average of $383,283, Grand Junction homes cost about a third less than the average of the 22 locations studied and rents run a quarter cheaper, according to Homefront.

On the downside, Grand Junction’s median household income of $62,993 is a little over two-thirds the statewide average and a smaller share of residents are college-educated. Walkability is somewhat below average, although the city’s downtown has staged a comeback.

Littleton ranked highly for its top-notch school district and access to health care. Loveland was lauded for its comparatively affordable rents, a lower crime rate and the lowest unemployment rate in the state.

“Some of it is growing pains”

At the other extreme were Commerce City, Brighton and Thornton.

Commerce City’s troubled Adams 14 School District scores a lowly 1 on a 1 to 10 scale, and is one of the worst in the state and in the bottom 7% nationally, according to Neighborhood Scout. Things were so bad that the state stepped in and stripped the local school board of control in 2018.

Proximity to primary care providers was only one-tenth the group average. Rents were the second highest after Highlands Ranch at $2,485 a month and the population was the third most rent-burdened in the state after Boulder and Castle Rock.

Brighton’s 27J was dinged as a below-average school district, with a score of 4, and the city had the second-lowest share of college-educated residents. Thornton’s Adams 12 Five Star Schools district, had a much higher score of 7, but the city suffered from a lack of restaurants and activities, as did Commerce City.

“That is something we are very aware of and our City Council has made it very clear they want to address those shortcomings,” said Travis Huntington, community relations manager for Commerce City.

Commercial services have failed to keep up with the surge in construction in northern Commerce City, contributing to the shortfall in medical facilities, restaurants and attractions, Huntington said.

Housing costs were comparable to other places in metro Denver, i.e. on the high end, but residents received less in terms of the quality of life, Ness said of the three low-ranking cities in Adams County.

But Huntington countered that Adams County has a reputation for relative affordability in housing, one reason people are moving there.

Commerce City had the fourth fastest growth rate of any large municipality in the state between July 2020 and July 2023 at 8.7%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We can hardly keep up with the amount of growth. There are a lot of positives happening here. Some of it is growing pains. We aim to work through that as a community,” Huntington said.

High crime rates bring scores down

Colorado’s two largest cities didn’t fare well either. Denver ranked 19th and Aurora ranked 17th, with Pueblo sandwiched in between.

Pueblo, the closest thing to a steel town in Colorado, has had a rough go of it since deindustrialization took hold decades ago. But why did Denver and Aurora rank so poorly?

A higher crime rate was a factor for all three cities, and so were high home insurance premiums. Crime rates, based on violent and property crimes, as well as the affordability of housing, carried heavier weights than the other variables examined in the study, Ness said.

Pueblo led with nearly 81 reported crimes per 1,000 residents, followed by Denver at 74.1 crimes and Lakewood at 61.8. The safest location studied, in terms of crime, was Castle Rock, with a crime rate of 11.8 reported crimes per 1,000 residents, followed by Parker at 19.6 and Centennial at 23.1.

The average crime rate for the 22 Colorado locations was 39.5 incidents per 1,000 residents.

Highlands Ranch, which isn’t a municipality but is a census-designated place with more than 100,000 residents, had the highest monthly rent, including both homes and apartments, at $2,505 a month, according to the Zillow Observed Rent Index.

Commerce City had the second-highest monthly rent at $2,485 and Boulder was third at $2,442. Because much of the construction that has gone on in Highlands Ranch and Commerce City is single-family, rents may be skewing higher in those areas than where apartments dominate.

The three markets with the lowest monthly rents were Pueblo at $1,341, Greeley at $1,428 and Grand Junction at $1,467. The average of the observed monthly rents across all the locations in the survey was $1,990 a month.

Affordability, however, is a relative term. Rents were highest relative to incomes in Boulder, Commerce City and Pueblo, with a note that college students distort the Boulder rent burden. Incomes were best able to cover the typical rent in Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Rock.

Average annual home insurance premiums were the highest in Pueblo at $4,472, despite the lowest home prices of the areas studied. Aurora, Centennial and Denver were next highest at $3,809, $3,780 and $3,776, respectively. Premiums in Grand Junction, with its milder climate, were the lowest $1,380, under a third of Pueblo’s, even though homes cost more in Mesa County.

Littleton had the highest number of restaurants per 1,000 residents, followed by Denver, Boulder and Grand Junction.

The most walkable cities were Denver, Boulder, Lakewood and Aurora.

By Aldo Svaldi, The Denver Post (TNS)
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