The PCHTF Policy Committee Has the Floor

The PCHTF Policy Committee Has the Floor

The following public comment was provided to the City of Des Moines Council at the first public reading of the proposed zoning code on Monday, September 9th.

As one of the area’s leading affordable housing funder and advocates, the Polk County Housing Trust Fund Vision is “Everyone has equal opportunity for safe, stable, affordable homes within the communities where they choose to live, work, play and learn.”  It is with that Vision in mind that offer the following comments to the 2019 Proposed Zoning Code:

Des Moines has received many awards for being a great place to live, a great place to raise a family, and dozens of other accolades. One characteristic always mentioned in these “best-of” announcements is our low cost of living – especially housing.  

In fact, Des Moines is so popular that the recent Workforce Housing Study estimates there will be almost 150,000 new workers in the metro in the next 20 years. The Study predicts a once-in-a-century opportunity that could be a huge economic win for this community if managed properly. Decisions we make about housing now will have major impacts on Des Moines’ many generations to come. 

Des Moines’ explosive population growth over the next two decades will create an unprecedented and sustained demand for new housing. Some of that need will be met by 28,000 new rental homes in various permutations, but Polk County is projected to need 33,500 new single-family homes, three-quarters of them priced for households earning $75,000 or less annually. 

Meeting this market challenge will require diverse strategies and an ambitious mix of housing styles and configurations to keep housing within reach for our new neighbors. Fortunately, the proposed code incorporates many of those best practices — more flexibility for “missing middle” development, transit corridors with increased density and more varied use, streamlined processes, and removal of some barriers to healthier communities. 

However, these innovative approaches cannot realistically meet 100% of our anticipated need. Des Moines will also need to use traditional methods of home building to satisfy a portion of the demand. Unfortunately, parts of the current draft code would make it more difficult to serve the economic needs of this new market with traditional greenfield subdivision development. 

That being said, it is your responsibility as our elected representatives to weigh the pros and cons of the proposed zoning code.  Your decision will determine how effectively the City responds to our future needs.

Regardless of your decision, Des Moines should seize this opportunity to lead the nation by designing a comprehensive and robust housing plan informed by its new Code. Using the Workforce Housing Study as a measure, let’s aggressively pursue construction of 630 new owner occupied homes in our city EACH YEAR priced between $175,000 and $225,000.  Let’s seek out developers for the 525 new apartments we will need ANNUALLY to house our arriving households earning less than $50,000 a year.  Let’s put that plan on paper as a challenge for our builders to meet and exceed each year.  Let’s use our results to evaluate how well our City performs.  Let’s create a measurable plan where our firemen, healthcare professionals, teachers, and electricians should have no trouble finding a safe, stable and affordable place to call home. 

The Polk County Housing Trust Fund is prepared to help craft and execute this ambitious plan.  It will take the talent and resources of many stakeholders to meet the plan’s construction goals.  We need to depend on government, non-profits, private developers and the business community to all contribute both time and money.  If all are fully engaged, the City will benefit from a productive workforce, improved educational outcomes for our children and improvements in community health and well-being. 

This proposed Code has been the subject of much conversation and attention.  It has created disagreements among representatives of groups directly impacted.  Many have expended significant time and energy seeking to influence the result.  Regardless of the Council’s final decision, it is time to move on.  The challenge ahead of us is clear.  We must meet that challenge within the limits of the new Code.  Let’s double the time and energy we’ve all expended to date to create and execute our new housing plan.  Let’s start tomorrow.  Each week that goes by is 12 new homes short of our goal.     

Thank you for all the work you do for the city and its residents. You are entrusted with making difficult decisions. You are also entrusted with ensuring that difficult challenges are met with effective solutions.  Let Des Moines lead the nation in strategically planning for a future that accounts for housing affordability. Thank you for your attention.