Sep 27, 2021 - News

Des Moines eyes creating a directory for vacant buildings

Des Moines has demolished 64 homes since 2019. More than three dozen others are ready for demolition and legal action against 124 others is in progress. Photo courtesy of the city of DSM

A vacant buildings directory might be part of an upcoming Des Moines property improvement initiative.

Why it matters: Vacant buildings can be dangerous, diminish nearby property values and have been linked with an increase in crime.

  • Identification can help remedy problems before buildings are beyond repair and must be demolished, City Council members contend.

Yes, but: Some residents and groups like the ACLU of Iowa warn that the initiative could infringe on property owner rights.

  • And inequitable development practices could disproportionately affect people of color, they said.

State of play: We told you last month about DSM’s plan that could require homeowners to make property improvements.

  • At least four inspectors will be hired by next spring to start citywide building assessments, SuAnn Donovan, assistant director of the city Neighborhood Services division, told the council last week.

What's new: City Council directed Donovan last week to consider a vacant buildings registry as part of the initiative.

  • Registry recommendations will return for council review in coming months.

How it works: We don’t know what DSM’s city staff will recommend, but the registries are not unique.

  • Iowa City owners who fail to register their vacant properties can face simple misdemeanor charges.
  • Newton charges vacant homeowners an annual $50 permit fee.

What’s next: The council is expected to finalize program details by the end of this year.


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