Lance Henning Has the Floor

City of Des Moines' Proposed New Zoning Code

Lance Henning Has the Floor

The following is public comment given by Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity’s Executive Director at the City of Des Moines Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday, July 18th. 

"Habitat is here because we do care about Des Moines and we care about its neighborhoods. Now, Habitat cares about the hard-working Des Moines residents and those that want to participate in the American Dream and own a home of their own. Some of Des Moines’ hard-working residents we’ve partnered with include CNAs, certified nursing assistants that help take care of maybe some of your friends and family that have unfortunately had to go to the hospital, concrete flat worker that maybe paved the roads that helped folks get to the meeting this evening, call center specialists that provide great customer service for one of our fantastic businesses in Des Moines, and administrative assistant that works for the Community Development Department.

Habitat cares about the cost of home. Habitat is here this evening to provide a voice for the thousands of Des Moines residents that today want a safe decent place to call their own. And we are here for the thousands of future Des Moines residents that want to be a part of all the positives that are happening here in this city as this workforce continues to grow significantly. Habitat is here because this zoning code, as proposed, will negatively, in fact, impact Des Moines residents’ ability to purchase a new home and negatively impact the cost of home. Zoning, city regulations and city processes are significant costs to creating housing and this zoning adds significantly to housing costs and adds to the process, it does not make it most efficient in all aspects. Quality housing should not be defined by larger square footage, and mandatory basements and required garages. 

In areas we are most active, new Habitat homes regularly are valued twice the average sale price of the area. Habitat developments, such as the Birdland area, thanks to your guys' approval, and a great partnership with the City, the assessed valuation per acre is 50 percent greater than some of the development with larger homes valued at $300,000. The Habitat homes without basements, without garages and not meeting the square footage requirements are 50 percent higher in valuation per acre than some areas with 2,000 square foot homes, three-car garages and basements.

Both smaller homes and larger homes can be quality homes, and the City of Des Moines needs both. It needs more of all types of housing. It needs a code with certainty that encourages a variety of housing mixes. The proposed code does not do that. Let’s not allow the City’s housing affordability strategy and it’s way to create variety of housing be based on granting discretionary exemption. Let’s write it into code ways to incent, create variety of housing sizes in more areas of the community. 

Managing by a Type 1 exemption creates a huge black hole of uncertainty. Type 1 exemption is not a policy that benefits the cost of home or creates certainty on what is required. Over the past five years, Habitat for Humanity's created 135 homeownership opportunities 114 of those were new construction. 36 percent of those came in front of Planning and Zoning, or the Board of Adjustment. That means 64 percent were on lots of record. They are situations where we pulled the permit and we built the house. Under the new zoning, none of those 114 houses built in the past five years would meet the proposed zoning. None of those 114 houses would have met the Type 1 exemption. It means that if we wanted to get an exemption from building a large house, $300,000 house, all 114 building permits would have to come in front of planning staff and Planning and Zoning for a public hearing for a Type 2 exemption.

If we need to ask for an exemption for every single building permit, Habitat would have the hire another staff person to be regularly requesting the exemptions for the so-called fastpass under the zoning. If we don't ask for the exemptions, zoning will raise Habitat house costs 45 to 55 percent depending on our house plan. That means with no exemptions, the code would add $75,000 to $90,000 per house that Habitat for Humanity's building.

We believe there should not be a bulk ordinance across the entire City. Allow variable sizes and housing variety across more parts of the City. We request no garage requirement, we request no basement requirement and we request reducing the square footage requirement by at least 35 percent. Let’s unlock affordability. Let’s increase the certainty. Let’s write a code that’s smart for our community, has more variety and is smart for the cost of home. 75 percent of Des Moines’ households should not be priced out of the choice to buy a new home. 75 percent of Des Moines’ households shouldn’t need a discretionary exemption to buy a new home. Let’s make housing affordability part of the code. Thank you." 

Want to hear more from the July 18th Planning and Zoning Commission meeting? You can find the entire meeting here: