Long haul to revitalize many Des Moines neighborhoods
Nearly three decades into efforts to revitalize its neighborhoods, the news Nov. 15 for the city of Des Moines wasn’t good.
Des Moines home values are at about 68 percent of where they should be, accounting for a loss of $40 million a year in property tax revenue; the suburbs are winning the race for residents, accounting for the half of the populaton growth of the entire state.
The good news: Des Moines can turn it around. Those were the some of assessments and a snippet of the pep talk today during a City Council work session from representatives of czb LLC, an Arlington, Va.-based consultant that was hired in June to do an evaluation of the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program.
Part of that review was an inventory of every property in the city. What czb found was that in many neighborhoods, property owners are not adding value to their homes and rental properties. They are not replacing leaky roofs, for example.
In a city where the average home value should be $170,000, it is instead around $120,000, said Charles Buki, czb president.
The message was not unexpected, and it was driven by the kind of data that the City Council decided earlier this year it desperately needed in order to address the needs of city neighborhoods. After approving an initial contract with czb in June, the council amended the deal in September to include a complete inventory of housing stock, the kind of detail it could not get by simply examing records from the Polk County assessor’s office, where property values are determined and recorded.
The meeting produced a bit of levity when Mayor Frank Cownie asked whether he was allowed to ask questions during the presentation.
“You’re the mayor, you can do whatever you want,” Buki said.
“You’re the first person that’s ever told me that,” Cownie said. The mayor went on to ask why, when Des Moines is flush with amenities, the suburbs are winning the housing and population race.
The response: There are several reasons, few more significant than the fact that downtown Des Moines is mere 15 minutes from virtually anywhere else in Greater Des Moines.
In the suburbs property taxes are lower, housing retains its value — chances are good that you can sell what you buy and enjoy a bit of a gain on the purchase price.
The redevelopment of downtown Des Moines should serve as an indication that the city can achieve big results, and for that reason it could reverse the decline in some of the city’s neighborhoods, Buki said.
Buki said the meeting was intended to present data and not make recommendations — that meeting will come at a later date.
“We’re one-third of the way through the process,” said Amber Lynch, the senior city planner who is working on the Neighborhood Revitalization Program.