Development must be purposeful

Our executive director wrote a letter to the editor in response to a recent Des Moines Register article discussing how some neighborhoods aren't seeing the rising property values that others are. She notes two important points. First, development costs the same whether it is done in the suburbs or the city, which means the cost of investment varies. Second, the gap is more than property values, it is the availability of affordable housing.


Here's the entire letter:

I want to thank Joel Aschbrenner and the Register for the Jan. 29 article, “Widening gap: How D.M.’s rising home values left behind some neighborhoods.” 

The comment “You have to get to that tipping point where the private market is willing to invest...” identifies one of the most significant barriers to revitalizing some Des Moines neighborhoods. The cost of material and labor for new homes, repairs or remodeling projects cost the same regardless of a suburban or urban location. The issue is that the return on investment is not the same, so where would you develop?

In addition, remodeling or building a single unit rarely provides the momentum necessary to transform a neighborhood. That’s why non-profits like HOME, Inc. and others exist. We complete multiple units at a time. For example, in 2015 we completed seven new units on one block in King-Irving. In 2016 and 2017 we will complete eight new units on Penn Avenue and in the Birdland area. Efforts that organizations like Viva East Bank, nonprofits and the city put forth can help neighborhoods work together to improve the housing stock and increase values. Only then will these neighborhoods become more attractive for private developers.

The recognition that housing prices are reasonable and property values are rising is good, unless you are part of the population who can’t afford it. The affordable housing gap is widening. The estimates go as high as 10,000 units needed throughout the region. There is little vacancy in units for low-income people who are looking for stability in their lives. 

I’m not advocating that property values should remain low in Des Moines neighborhoods. I live on the east side. Rather this is a reminder that development in these neighborhoods must be purposeful. We must be prepared to not only revitalize the neighborhood for new residents, but also keep it affordable for those who call these neighborhoods home.


— Pam Carmichael, Des Moines, HOME, Inc.




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