Nikki Syverson Has the Floor
Housing Key to Economic Stimulus
Housing is becoming a core component within long-range regional planning thanks in part to Nikki Syverson and her leadership of Capital Crossroads. In January Nikki will be leaving Capital Crossroads to create Isaacson-Syverson Consulting with longtime community advocate Connie Isaacson. We asked Nikki for a few minutes to discuss housing and why she invested significant time and research funding around the issue of housing affordability.
Lauren: One of the things you did that impressed many in the area of housing and economic development was that in your first year you attended every symposium, workshop, landlord forum, and bus tour as part of the annual Affordable Housing Week. No doubt you were pulled in a lot of directions, why the special attention on housing?
Nikki: Housing is connected to everything - health, education, economic development, neighborhood vibrancy and the list goes on. This is especially evident when looking at our Capital Crossroads priorities and I felt it was important to immerse myself in understanding what our current housing needs are, our resources and what we will need to plan for long-term. One of the more pressing issues to be addressed is around housing options for the jobs and related incomes that will be added to our region in the coming years. For example, it is projected that 70 percent of the new households in the Greater Des Moines Metro will have incomes below $75,000 a year. And we also know Polk County will need to add 57,000 net new housing units by 2038 to accommodate this growing workforce.
Lauren: Speaking of statistics, about two years ago, Capital Crossroads made a decision to invest in the Workforce Housing Study along with the City of Des Moines and PCHTF. Talk about that decision.
Nikki: While many can agree on the profound impact housing has in our communities, what’s more difficult to grasp is what the unmet need is and specifically the mix of housing that will be needed in the future. In the Capital Crossroads 2.0 plan, as a part of the capital core area, we first focused on a workforce housing study for downtown Des Moines. We’ve seen the downtown landscape change dramatically over the past 10-20 years and wanted to make sure that as we were growing, we were also planning where the additional employees would live. Parallel to our research plans were several conversations in other communities in our region who are working on housing plans. Given those additional discussions and the fact that Greater Des Moines is an incredibly mobile community, it became apparent we should look beyond downtown for the mix of housing needed for our region’s workforce. This is the first time we’ve aligned our housing strategies with our workforce demands and workforce needs. We thought that looking at it from that perspective would be important for our region as we continue to grow.
Lauren: What has been the most surprising finding throughout this process?
Nikki: I was very surprised at the projected growth that we’re expected to see. Not just the growth in population over the next 20 years, but the number of jobs. For example, in Central Iowa, for the counties of Dallas, Polk, Warren, Madison and Guthrie we are expected to add 150,954 net new jobs by 2038. Clearly having housing that is affordable for these employees and their families will be critically important.
Lauren: Why is it important for the Greater Des Moines Metro to get ahead of this issue?
Nikki: We have been so fortunate in central Iowa when it comes to basic quality of life factors such as relatively short commutes and affordable housing compared to other cities. As we grow, we will start to experience “big city” challenges if we don’t plan for the growth accordingly.
Lauren: After leaving Capital Crossroads, what would you like to see happen in the housing sphere?
Nikki: I am really looking forward to seeing well-informed, actionable housing plans being shared by communities throughout the metro. As we’ve been out presenting the Workforce Housing Study results, I get the sense that stakeholders are ready to be re-engaged to create plans that not only work in their communities, but also contribute to the overarching needs and goals of the entire region. We all have a vested interest and if we lose sight of workforce housing, businesses will struggle to compete for employees, and we risk losing economic development to other cities around the country. By coming together and focusing on housing, I am confident we will create steady economic stimulus for years to come.