Mar 31, 2021 - News
Des Moines targets "middle markets" for investments to tackle neighborhood decline
An illustration of houses rising higher.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

DSM is taking a new approach to tackle neighborhood decline by investing in areas that show early signs of distress.

What's happening: The city and Polk County pumped $5 million into a new incentivization program this fiscal year and plan to double that amount in coming months, budget documents show.

Why it matters: Most DSM neighborhoods are struggling to compete in the regional housing market.

  • Failure to halt a neighborhood’s backslide erodes the tax base and could make our entire community a less desirable place to live.

Neighborhoods that have neither the strongest nor the weakest property conditions were the focus of previous improvement programs, DSM and Polk officials acknowledged following a 2018 housing market evaluation.

A nonprofit group called "Invest DSM" was created to spearhead multiple residential or business SID programs, including:

  • Block Challenge: A $2,500 matching grant for exterior home repairs that requires owners apply with a team of neighbors for visible block-level impact.
  • Homeowner renovations: For high-quality upgrades intended to increase value and marketability.
  • Commercial grants: Matches up to $25,000 for building and site upgrades.
  • Single-family home developments: To incentivize major rehabs and new construction.

The results: Most of the programs have been going for less than a year, but have already leveraged millions of dollars in private investments among hundreds of property owners, according to the group’s annual report.

  • One iconic project is Chuck’s Restaurant, with a $1.5 million rehab to its building at 3610 Sixth Ave. that will be completed later this year.

What’s next: A bigger budget will help the programs expand in the coming year. Other SIDs will be identified, but that’s likely two or three years out, Invest DSM Director Amber Lynch told Axios.

Of note: Nationally, more neighborhoods have been in decline in recent years compared to those that are improving, according to a 2019 report from the University of Minnesota Law School’s Institute of Metropolitan Opportunity.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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