The City of Waukee has taken action to advance housing opportunity by approving a Request for Proposals (RFP) to turn over 13.6 acres of city-owned land for development as a housing tax credit community. The property is located in Waukee's Prairie Rose subdivision - a location less than a mile east of Northwest High School. When developed, this housing will help address a shortage of workforce housing in Waukee.
In an interview with the Des Moines Business Record, Waukee mayor Courtney Clarke said, "Land prices are not getting any cheaper and development costs are not going down," she said. "New homes in Waukee are not being built for under certain levels. … There are people who work in Waukee that cannot live in Waukee – Waukee teachers, people in our fire department, people who work in our grocery stores."
Indeed, a review of National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) data shows that the hourly wage needed to afford a 2 bedroom apartment in the 50263 Waukee zip code is $21.54/hour, creating difficulty for hourly wage workers looking to live near jobs there. The job market in Waukee is quite strong, with NLIHC's latest estimate of unemployment in the community at just 2.3%. As a result, Waukee officials have acknowledged a lack of workers has prompted some businesses in the community to delay opening.
The RFP released by Waukee aligns with the City's goal to "create, expand, and maintain affordable hosuing for low- and moderate-income families and senior citizens." Issued this month, the RFP calls for, among other things, housing that meets the criteria for federal housing tax credits and can be built on land currently zoned R-4 for rowhouses and townhomes with a maximum density of 12 units/acre. In exchange, the developer selected will qualify incentives from the city including receiving the land at low or no cost.
The deadline to apply for Waukee's RFP is August 29, 2022.
The City of Des Moines will dramatically expand homeowners' ability to construct Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) under an amendment to the city’s zoning code adopted by Council Monday night. ADUs are smaller homes that share a lot with a larger single-family home.
The changes allow ADUs to be built in residential areas across the city, a significant expansion over the earlier code, which only allowed them in areas already zoned for multifamily development. A press release by the City of Des Moines estimates ADUs will be allowed on 78 percent of the city's residential land following this change. In the remaining areas, other forms of multifamily housing are allowed.
Under this action by Council, ADUs would be legal to build “by right,” or with minimal city approvals, in more than half the city, including land already zoned for multifamily housing as well as areas near DART transit lines. With a conditional use permit approved by the Zoning Board of Adjustment, these homes would be allowed in other residential areas.
“We're trying to provide alternative housing options that give people different choices and provide more rooftops in Des Moines. I think that it's particularly important on our corridors and transit routes that have that extra layer of density but [need development that is] done in a way that is sensitive to the character of the neighborhood,” said Des Moines planning and urban design administrator Jason Van Essen.
Ahead of the vote, the City of Des Moines released a new resource explaining restrictions that apply to ADUs built in the city, including that they are restricted to half the size of the main house on the property and include on-site parking.
In addition, the property owner must live either in the main house or the ADU but can obtain a rental certificate for the other home on the lot if someone who is not in the homeowner's immediate family will live there. That move is intended to boost neighbors’ confidence that ADUs will not interfere with surrounding owner-occupied homes.
“An owner has to reside on the property, so you’re always going to have the actual property owner invested in what happens on that property, and I think more of the challenges that we’ve seen historically with properties that are rented is often you have the absentee landlord,” Van Essen said.
Van Essen said that while the city does not have a count of the current number of ADUs in Des Moines, they can be found in several neighborhoods. He estimated their number in the dozens, but not the hundreds, city-wide.
Local nonprofit HOME, Inc., is constructing one ADU in the Oak Park neighborhood of Des Moines. The Polk County Housing Trust Fund is tracking the construction of that home with videos on its YouTube channel.
Around the country, ADUs are known as a “gentle density” form of housing development which means neighbors may not even notice their addition on a given block. Des Moines city officials have said the expansion of ADU access aligns with changes to the city’s zoning code in 2019 and the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for increasing housing options at various price points.
As an affordable housing strategy, one advantage of ADUs is that they do not require buying more land because they share a lot with another home. They are also an effective way of allowing smaller rental units into single-family neighborhoods where they may not otherwise be allowed, according to The ABCs of ADUs, a publication by the AARP, a national leader in advocating for ADUs across the country.
AARP also points out that ADUs are an excellent way for multiple generations of a family to live on the same property while each can keep their independence.
“It’s one thing that can be done to try to provide a variety of options for folks that are at different points in their lives,” Van Essen said. “We want to maintain our sense of place but also try to provide more housing, so I think this is a great way to do that.”
This change in zoning is the second recent policy change Des Moines has made to support more housing choices. In November, the city adjusted its development incentives to provide tax abatements for ADUs and missing middle housing – smaller multi-family developments that occupy the middle ground between single-family homes and larger apartment buildings.
Around the country, multiple changes in city codes are often necessary to spur more construction of ADUs. Van Essen acknowledged Des Moines' current actions might not be its last.
“You know zoning – it's all a living document [that’s] constantly being evaluated and changed, and so we’ll... continue to look at this and see how it goes and make changes in reaction to what we see,” he said.
Editor’s note: In the Des Moines zoning code, ADUs are referred to as Accessory Housing Units or AHUs. The two terms can be used interchangeably to describe the same type of housing.
This blog post was updated on May 10 to incorporate information from a City of Des Moines press release.
The Urban Land Institute Iowa chapter will host a workshop on Iowa's Workforce Housing Tax Credit on May 19, 2022 at 8 am in the offices of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. The organization will host a panel including Nichole Hansen, Community Investments Team Leader at IEDA, as well as Kris Saddoris, Vice President Development at Hubbell Realty Company. This panel will discuss the process of applying as well as why the tax credit is important to getting projects off the ground. Registration is free for ULI members, $20 for nonmembers.