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.