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NOTEBOOK: Leaders Survey: Affordable housing, remote working


Editor’s note: This is a continuation of our 2021 Leaders Survey coverage, which we began publishing in the Nov. 26 issue. Our annual survey asks business leaders to share what they feel are some of the top issues affecting business in Central Iowa, and in particular the Greater Des Moines region. As you read, you’ll see the responses and also select remarks from those who opted to leave comments as they took the survey. 

This year’s guest editor, Jake Christensen, is the founder and president of Christensen Development. He provided analysis of each question.


Agree or disagree: 
Developers should be required to have an affordable housing component to receive public tax incentives.

Guest Editor Jake Christensen: The responses to this question were nearly split. This points to the complexity of the issue and may also reflect a lack of understanding of the challenges to creating affordable housing. The most successful neighborhoods include multiple types of housing and multiple income levels within the neighborhood.  

The development of any housing unit comes with fixed costs associated with the development. The most cost-efficient way to add affordable units is to average them within market-rate projects. The fixed cost per unit is spread over all units, reducing the financial gap to create the affordable unit. When municipalities assist projects through tax incentives, the municipality should be able to require developers to meet design standards and neighborhood goals as part of the development agreement. 

Agree. All income levels inherently pay property taxes. The entire housing supply market at multiple price points needs to be incentivized, but cities can’t do that across multiple projects from different owners, so it’s left to being only within a single project. Unless somehow incentive funds can be put into a common pool for a separate project.
Todd Kielkopf, president, Kielkopf Advisory Services

Agree. Developers get my money (taxes), they should not increase the adverse effects of gentrification that may ultimately affect some other problems that are going to be asking for my money (taxes).
Bryan Myers, senior vice president, Neumann Brothers

Agree. Currently there are not enough government and philanthropic resources to provide every Central Iowan with safe, stable and affordable housing. Adding the private sector as an additional funding source can help fill that funding gap.
Eric Burmeister, executive director, Polk County Housing Trust Fund

Disagree. This definitely feels like the wrong question. This type of approach is at least partially responsible for the housing crisis we are facing, so following the same path isn’t going to produce any different results. To affect the affordability and availability of housing, we have to think and act differently. We have to decrease the level of unnecessary regulation, end the weaponization of the zoning codes and stop treating those who work with their hands as second-class citizens.
Dan Knoup, executive officer, Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines

Disagree. Every project should take into account the area median income of the workforce and strive to provide housing that fits all demographics.
Wade Hiner, president, sales and marketing, Destiny Homes

Disagree. Public tax incentives should be available for affordable housing. If private and public funding would facilitate an economic return to the developer, then workforce housing will be built.
Mike Zuendel, founder/CEO, Legacy Bridge Private Family Offices

Disagree. Before an affordability component should be required, it is important to know what is really missing in our community. We need to define affordability. Most [low-income housing tax credit] projects are for 60% of median income and below. I believe that is too narrow a group. I believe the group that is missing out is the area above this, up to 150% of median income, but we really do not know. That would be the first step.
Rick Tollakson, CEO, Hubbell Realty Co.

Disagree. Developers have a singular responsibility to look after their own income/expense profile. They should not be receiving public tax incentives, therefore they should not be providing an affordable housing component.
Kenneth Stinson, principal, Northwestern Investments


Agree or disagree: 
Remote working (for industries where it’s possible) increases employee productivity.

Guest Editor Jake Christensen: Leaders are unsure about how remote working affects productivity. They feel that this is largely dependent on the individual, role and culture of the organization. Leaders feel any increase in productivity is offset by the inability of individuals to collaborate in groups to drive innovation, creativity, culture and cohesion. Training and mentoring can also be more challenged with remote work. With that said, leaders also feel that flexibility to embrace remote working where appropriate is key to attracting and retaining a talented workforce.  

Agree. It depends on the individual. For me, absolutely.
Eric Burmeister, executive Director, Polk County Housing Trust Fund

Agree. It appears I log in earlier and am at it continually – even during family movie night at home. Ugh!
Michael Wolnerman, vice president, pharmacy and real estate, OneroRx

Agree. I think it can increase employee productivity, but the jury may still be out on its effect on company culture and ability to innovate.
Joe Sorenson, vice president of affiliate relations, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines

Agree. Short term, productivity has increased in many cases. However, I think long term, ramifications such as decreased collaboration and the feeling of isolation in remote works will offset the productivity gains if they aren’t considered. Much of what has pushed us toward a remote workplace has been reaction. We’ve done well adapting, but need to take a step back and look at the actions that have been taken to make sure they continue to make sense going forward.
Todd McDonald, president, ATW Training Solutions

Agree. It may, but it is based on the work ethic of the people.
Bob Ritz, president and CEO, MercyOne

Agree. Remote working helps us understand what employees need to be successful. Many employees don’t need to come in to work and go through the performance of work to be successful, but many do. This is not an either/or question. Employers need to work with their employees on the factors that drive success and then trust them to execute.
Greg Lin, assistant director of alumni volunteer engagement, Drake University

I’m not sure. I think some people are more productive working from home and others are less productive. This is case by case.
Carrie Woerdeman, director of development, Kading Properties

I’m not sure. I feel it depends on the person, the role and the organization.
Tray Wade, president and CEO, EveryStep

I’m not sure. Like many things, it depends. If the only measure is whether an experienced employee is more productive working remotely (or even in office uninterrupted), then the answer is yes, they will be more productive at “doing their tasks” working remotely. If the measure is whether an experienced employee is making the collective group of employees (the company) more productive working remotely, then the answer is probably no. We are finding that tasks can be done effectively on a remote basis, but an experienced employee’s full job normally involves more than just completing their personal tasks. There is a lot of personal/professional training/development/mentoring that goes on in our business between employees that is completed most efficiently/effectively through personal interaction.
Rod Foster, office managing partner, RSM US LLP

I’m not sure. I think what the increase in remote working has showcased is that different people thrive in different situations, but it’s extremely beneficial for both employers and employees to explore every realistic opportunity to bring out the best in each employee.
Beth Shelton, CEO, Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa

Disagree. In the short term, working remotely was effective for many companies and employees, and DSM employers pivoted quickly and easily to respond to health and safety needs. Long term, a large majority of employees in most industries have or will return to the workplace as working in groups drives innovation, creativity and social cohesion. Many employers are now offering more flexibility than prior to the pandemic as a talent attraction and retention tool.
Jay Byers, president and CEO, Greater Des Moines Partnership

In the short term, less than two years, there are elements of increased productivity. However, working from home is not a long-term effective way to sustain a productive and well-trained workforce.
David Bubeck, research director, Corteva Agriscience


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