Dec 3, 2021 - News

Des Moines home construction dipped dramatically in 2020

Illustration of a pattern of houses, most of them cut out with emptiness behind them.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Home development dipped by nearly 50% in Des Moines last year as compared to 2019, city permit records obtained by Axios show.

  • Permits issued through November of this year are ahead of 2020 numbers, but still well below the 2019 level.

Why it matters: Some developers are questioning whether a zoning overhaul approved by the city in late 2019 is to blame.

What they're saying: Dan Knoup, executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Des Moines (HBA), told Axios that the 2019 zoning changes are too restrictive.

The other side: Michael Ludwig, the deputy director of DSM's Development Services Department, called 2019 an exceptional year, when the pace of construction more than doubled.

  • The most recent trends are more typical of DSM's housing patterns, he said.

Yes, but: DSM's dip countered national trends and occurred while home construction in most of the metro continued to grow, according to permit data collected by the HBA.

  • Metrowide permits for single-family dwellings and townhouses increased by almost 22%, from 3,613 to 4,398 last year, according to HBA data shared with Axios.

Between the lines: Des Moines also approved changes to its tax abatement program last month that will narrow incentives for projects started after the end of this year if they don't meet enhanced efficiency standards.

  • Additionally, an all-electric requirement intended to eliminate the use of fossil fuels will be considered next year as a condition for future tax abatement qualification.

The big picture: DSM leaders are trying to encourage smarter building practices and plan better for the city's future.

  • The zoning rewrite in 2019 was the first in almost 60 years and it is intended to work alongside the city's long-term development plan.
  • New flood reduction requirements are part of a larger metro movement that has also been approved in Clive, Windsor Heights, Waukee, Urbandale and Johnston.

The bottom line: Lots of factors play into development but Des Moines' housing construction dip deserves ongoing review.

  • The city's development dial may need further tuning.
Data: City of Des Moines; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios
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