Author: Wendy Nog

Our Neighborhood Infrastructure

Our Neighborhood Infrastructure

As Mayor, Jack Hatch will improve our neighborhoods – while downtown development has skyrocketed our neighborhoods are being forgotten with too many potholes in the roads and school infrastructure in need of repairs while our taxes have gone up. As Mayor, Jack Hatch will fix our roads and failing infrastructure.

Our Schools – Partnership Plan

Our Schools – Partnership Plan

Jack Hatch authored the largest minority college scholarship fund for high school students to attend one of the three state universities.  Jack Hatch wants more coordination between the city council and the school board to create internships and summer jobs for our students.

Iowa is moving in the wrong direction on education and it affects Des Moines greatly. After national rankings in the top three states, Iowa today is ranked 24th on a broad range of metrics from early childhood education to high school graduation.  The picture in higher education isn’t much better when Iowa is ranked with the third highest student debt.  The state’s regression on national rankings on education is an astonishing reality for most Iowans who have become accustomed to educational excellence as a bipartisan norm only to see our advantages decline in this decade.   Iowans need to understand that our future is directly related to our children’s education. As the largest city in the state, Des Moines can help restore excellence and expand educational and investment opportunities.  The City of Des Moines can step up and work more closely with the Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) to ensure our kids have the best opportunity to learn.

There’s no doubt that the State of Iowa and the legislature have provided a crushing blow to public schools by reducing state aid.  The lowest average increases in state spending on schools and to the DMPS has come during the past eight years.  Any expansion of our universal early childhood education program has been stalled.  Our teacher pay rank has fallen to the middle.  

Long gone is the class size initiative that made Iowa’s elementary and middle schools the envy of the nation and DMPS have suffered.

The City of Des Moines can help in making our schools better

With the continued reduction of state funding to keep up with expenses, state aid does not recognize the funds needed to reach the student diversity within the Des Moines Independent School District and, as a result, the DMPS has to rely more heavily on property tax for revenue.  This failure of the state now requires the city to work closer with the school district to ensure that all our Des Moines students get the best education available.  In our schools, we have over 100 different languages and dialects, our minority enrollment exceeds 60%, and our class sizes are larger than ever. The district has over 32,500 students with 38 elementary schools, 11 middle schools, 5 high schools, and 10 special schools or programs. We have over 10 international baccalaureate world schools, 5 turnaround art schools, the only public Montessori school in Iowa, and Central Academy for advanced placement.  THIS IS AN INCREDIBLE SCHOOL DISTRICT and the city should be more involved.

Presently, the city council and the board of education have no formal relationship and act completely independently.  There is no obligation for the school district and the city to cooperate on anything, the budget, tax revenue, athletic events, job training, or summer work activities.  This will now change. 

The following are policy areas I will recommend to both the city council and the school board:

  1.  Request that the President of the school board and the Superintendent become ex-officio members of the city council.  They will receive the agenda, respond and provide input on all matters on the agenda, provide analysis and research, and share how the city’s decisions impact the schools and the education of our youngest residents.  They will be seated at our table and have the right to engage in our discussion; however, they will be non-voting members. When families decide on where they want to live, they also decide on where their children will go to school.  The city and school district are tied at the hip and we should be more pro-active in our collaboration.
  2. Develop year-round internships in city government for students.  We will develop, with the school board, student internships for their students in city departments and agencies. In addition, we will request that other local governments establish a robust program or increase any existing internships that presently exist.  It is our hope that class credit will be extended, and a stipend provided to all internships.
  3. Re-establish Summer Youth Jobs at our parks and recreation facilities and partner with businesses to create summer employment opportunities.  Summertime is always difficult for schools to keep in contact with its students.  It is also the time of year that students could fall into increased trouble.  Instead of putting the burden on our police department to deal with the “summertime blues”, we will establish a Mayor and Council Summer Youth Jobs Program.  We will solicit funds from private sector employers, local and state employment programs, federal workforce job training funds, and individual donations to create a robust and educational/job vocational summer employment program.

Housing Affordability in our Neighborhoods

Housing Affordability in our Neighborhoods

As Mayor, Jack Hatch understands affordable housing is one of our top priorities. Jack Hatch is an award-winning affordable housing builder who works with Iowa cities and towns to build homes for middle class and low income families. As mayor, Jack Hatch will use his experience to increase affordable housing in Des Moines, making sure taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and wisely, and working to lower property taxes.

The wrong priorities

In 2006, the city started selling off its public housing assets, with the only direction by HUD to use the sales proceeds to promote more affordable housing in Des Moines.  The pool of money was well over $8,000,000.  To date the city has said they have used it to “maintain” the existing public housing units, which they are trying to sell.  This was not the intent of that money.

The city has repeatedly awarded tax incentives to major companies to develop market rate properties in Des Moines, so much so that the downtown Des Moines core has a plus 10% vacancy rate due to so many units.  Of 3,000 units coming online in Des Moines, not ONE is considered affordable.

The new Energy Performance Standard ordinance to increase energy efficiency was so watered down that it is doomed to fail.  In trying to reduce carbon emissions (CO2), the city targeted the commercial and real estate interest by requiring them to meet energy efficiency standard, but they only affected 11% of the users.  This will make minimal impact on reducing CO2 emissions and it will have the unintended consequence of slowing down the rate of new affordable housing units. In a letter to the council, I recommended a bolder approach.  We should provide residential users incentives to install high energy equipment.  Instead of paying a rebate, they can deduct a certain amount on their property taxes thus being rewarded for installing energy efficiency equipment. For commercial and industrial properties that request city cash or reduced incentives, we should require them to meet Energy Star efficiency standards.

Finally, the city is trying to change their single-family zoning code, by restricting building material and requiring houses to have a minimum of 1,400 square feet and to have an attached garage.  The National Association of Home Builders have come out and stated that if this would pass, it will be the most onerous zoning code in the nation.  This zoning code change would create additional challenges to agencies that provide affordable housing like Habitat for Humanity and possible slow down additional development.  It would increase the costs of building single family homes in Des Moines by 35%.  The council should suspend the third reading of the ordinance so more direct input from neighborhood associations and builders could be solicited.

Affordable housing for working Families – “Our Housing Future”

Most of the city’s investment in affordable housing has been through the state’s Iowa Finance Authority, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), HUD HOME fund and federal tax credits.  The city’s involvement has been limited and rarely has included local financial investments.  As a result, the city does not have an aggressive housing policy and provides little housing opportunity.  In addition, it has concentrated in the downtown area and not in other neighborhoods.

The “Our Housing Future” plan allows the city to prioritize both zoning and building of affordable workforce housing throughout the city: 

  • Create affordable housing funds for neighborhoods
    1. Create a Single-Family Housing Fund to build new single-family housing on vacant lots and identify in-fill housing opportunities.
    2. 2Create a Housing Renovation Fund, by identifying all abandon or troubled housing to rehabilitate existing rundown housing stock.
    3. Revenue for these two new funds will be from the creation of an incentive program requiring every commercial and industrial development which receives TIF or tax abatement to contribute 10% of their negotiated incentive package to be deposited into the two new funds.
    4. These funds will be administered through the existing public and private housing agencies the city presently uses (the NDC, NFC, PCHTF, Habitat for Humanity, non-profit agencies and private companies).
    5. Neighborhood associations will participate in the decision-making process.
    6. Establish new zoning requirements that would expedite permitting in creating conformity to housing in the neighborhood.
  • Freeze property taxes for all residents over 65 years old
    1. To lower the burden of increasing costs of home ownership to fixed-income residents, the city should freeze property taxes for all residents over 65 years old who still own and live in their home; and when they sell their home, they can pay back the city on a sliding scale. This will keep seniors in their homes longer and allow them to attend to potentially high medical needs and defer moving to a senior nursing home.
  • Protect historic homes and prioritize low-income housing:
    1. Accelerate the enrollment of applying for state and federal historic tax credits for eligible homes.
    2. Prioritize low-income housing throughout the city with automatic property tax abatement, tax increment financing, city loans and grants.

Finally, as a builder of affordable, market and commercial developments, if elected, I will no longer develop new projects in the corporate limits of Des Moines.

Our Community Safety

Our Community Safety

As Mayor, Jack Hatch understands community safety is a top priority. In the state legislature Jack Hatch sponsored legislation for universal background checks in Iowa…(click here to read more)”, and voted to prevent people who have been convicted of domestic violence from possessing firearms, which made him a target of the N.R.A. As mayor, Jack Hatch will work to reduce gun violence, increase community policing, and modernize the police force with cutting edge technologies.

Improving Mental Health Services

Improving Mental Health Services

“Safer Together Program”

As Mayor, Jack Hatch will address the urgent mental health care crisis that has been ignored in Des Moines. In the Iowa state legislature, Jack Hatch authored the expansion of Medicaid, created the Community Health Collaborative Network, and successfully led the effort to expand healthcare coverage to 30,000 kids. As mayor, Jack Hatch will address the urgent mental health care crisis that has been ignored in Des Moines.

Background: Six years ago, I lead the Iowa Senate effort to reorganize the state’s mental health services.  By regionalizing the state’s funding and increasing the local governments’ mental health professional capacity, we knew we were moving in the right direction. 

Today, most of these services are managed by Polk County.  They are doing a great job but there are not enough resources to deal with all the issues mental health is now involved. 

Because this is viewed as a county issue, most people don’t think the city has any responsibility.  They are wrong. And we can do so much more in providing real services to our residents.

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a comprehensive study on how cities across the country are being challenged by a growing number of calls for service involving people who have mental health needs.

Increasingly, officers are called on to be the first—and often the only—responders to calls involving people experiencing a mental health crisis. These calls can be among the most complex and time-consuming for officers to resolve, redirecting them from addressing other public safety concerns and violent crime. They can also draw intense public scrutiny and can be potentially dangerous for officers and people who have mental health needs. When these calls come into 911/ dispatch, the appropriate community-based resources are often lacking to make referrals, and more understanding is needed to relay accurate information to officers. As such, there is increasing urgency to ensure that officers and 911 dispatchers have the training, tools, and support to safely connect people to needed mental health services.

More often, the person ends up in jail. Across the country, jails hold 10 times as many people with serious mental illnesses as state hospitals, according to a recent report from The Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit that lobbies for treatment options for people with mental illness.

Create a special DMPD Mental Health Unit

Proposal:  Without access to appropriate alternatives, our residents are not getting enough help.  As mayor, I will do the following:

  • Create a special unit in the police department, Mental Health Unit of the Des Moines Department, MHPD unit, comprised of police officers with mental health experience and background.  The effort will focus on an idea called “smart justice” – basically, diverting people with serious mental illness out of jail and into treatment instead.  It is possible because all the players in the system that deal with mental illness — the police, the county jail, mental health department, criminal courts, hospitals and homeless programs – pooled their resources to take better care of people with mental illness.
  • Invest in comprehensive, city-county partnership to create greater coordination on all mental health services.
  • Establish a stronger behavioral health relationship between law enforcement and mental health professional services and faith based organizations, sometimes known as police-mental health collaborations (PMHCs) by sharing evidence based practices.
  • Expand our Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) – co-responders and mobile crisis intervention teams.
  •  Designate ‘mental health’ officers in our neighborhood watch programs. Their main focus will be to integrate law enforcement responses to people who have mental illness into the day-to-day functions of all officers.

Police Officers, the Fire Department and Paramedics are often left with a set of difficult choices: leave people in potentially harmful situations, bring them to hospital emergency departments, or in some cases arrest them. Des Moines can do better.

Provide Youth Crisis Services

Background:  When we passed the landmark mental health legislation six years ago, we did not include child mental health services, however, successive legislation required the newly established mental health regionals to institute a plan for servicing children before 2020.  In Polk County, several service providers formed “Reach Out”, a youth crisis support organization.  In their recent report, they stated:

When it comes to youth-focused mental health services, Polk County, like many other regions (in the state), suffers from a troubling gap.  The trouble being that there are currently no crisis support organizations forced on serving our youth.”               

Proposal:  As mayor, I will eliminate this gap by taking the lead in establishing the services reported in the “Reach-Out” list of recommendations:

  • Create a 24 Hour Crisis Line that will receive calls from kids and adults and dispatch appropriate police and mental health mobile units.
  • Provide care coordination for the immediate 24 – 48  hour, 7 days a week for up to 30 days.
  • Provide de-escalating issues for youth and their entire family and create a plan that addresses safety.
  • Establish a treatment plan for the youth and family with appropriate community service providers.
  • Interface with our schools
  • Incorporate strong coordination with hospitals and private physicians.