May 23, 2024 - News

Waukee's growth accelerates affordable housing need

Illustration of a dollar sign made out of house keys.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

As Waukee's population booms — home developers have no trouble selling larger, more expensive homes.

  • However, city leaders are stepping in to help develop more affordable housing to diversify the community.

Why it matters: The rapidly growing area is building new schools, retail stores and businesses — but those places need workers who can afford to live in Waukee.

State of play: In 2000, Waukee had 5,000 residents. By 2020, it had exploded to 25,000 residents, and the suburb is still gaining up to seven residents a day, says Nick Osborne, Waukee assistant city manager.

Friction point: Because of the growth, most of Waukee's houses are newer and more expensive than neighboring cities' affordable older homes. Between 2018 and 2022, the median home price was $305,3000. Des Moines' most recent home price was $241K.

  • Meanwhile, he points to other cities redeveloping older sites, like the former Valley West Inn in West Des Moines.
  • Yes, but: Osborne says that around 70-80% of Waukee's homes were built in 2000 and after.

What's happening: Instead of waiting for a developer to take the initiative, Waukee purchased in 2022 a 13.5-acre site near North Warrior Lane and Douglas Parkway and invited groups to build new affordable homes.

  • Habitat for Humanity is building 48 townhomes to own and Waukee is providing $500,000 in tax incremental financing. A family of four with a total income of $83,440 would qualify for purchase.
  • Wisconsin developer Northpointe is also expected to build 46 rental townhomes for people earning 30-60% of the area's median income.
  • Construction is expected to begin in 2025.

The intrigue: Waukee has experimented with accelerating affordable housing development, including changing its city code to allow home builders to construct on smaller lots, which brings down housing costs.

  • Osborne says that didn't make much impact. Developers are earning more money building expensive, larger homes, and there's no shortage of demand for them.

What they're saying: While current residents may complain about the fast growth and increase in traffic, Osborne says Waukee's problem isn't a bad one.

  • "Having new residents is a challenge," Osborne says. "But I think if you took a poll around the state of Iowa, there are communities that would kill for that problem."

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