Growing Affordable Housing

Left: Matt Hauge; Right: Britney Appelgate

Writer: Andrea Love
Photographer: Duane Tinkey

Greater Des Moines will add 150,000 new jobs and 84,000 new households by 2038, according to a 2019 study by the Virginia Center for Housing Research. As exciting as growth may be for the economy, many of these new employees won’t be able to afford a home to live in—unless action is taken now to address the problem.

“We know that a lot of folks we’ll be welcoming in that workforce are going to have wages below $75,000 per year,” says Matt Hauge, director of communications and outreach for the Polk County Housing Trust Fund.

Most of the new employment opportunities are predicted to be in the service and caretaking industries, such as restaurant and retail workers, child care providers and home health aides, “essential workers and jobs that we depend on every day,” Hauge says.

CZB, a Virginia-based planning and community development firm, analyzed the Des Moines region’s ability to manage the projected influx of new jobs and reported that as of now, “Any household earning less than $35,000 per year, or $16.50 per hour at full-time for a single earner, cannot afford the median rent in the region,” which is about $900 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. Minimum wage in Iowa is $7.25 per hour.

To address the problem, Capital Crossroads has launched a new initiative called “Housing Tomorrow: Here We Grow” with the goal of increasing affordable housing through regional collaboration. The director of Capital Crossroads, Britney Appelgate, says conversations with the city of Des Moines and the initiative’s partners, including the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority and others, will help the metro area identify areas for improvement and work on realistic solutions, all of which will take time and intentional efforts.

“One community can’t do this on their own; it has to be a regional effort,” Appelgate says. “We imagine this is going to be a long process, and we’re just getting started.”

Appelgate says Des Moines and its suburbs need to ensure housing is available near job centers as well as offer housing options that reflect the job mix and income levels, ranging from minimum-wage positions to high-paying professions. In addition, Appelgate says communities need to avoid repeating the mistakes that led to past inequities.

“We know from the work of Polk County Housing Trust Fund around redlining that communities have had systemic issues with unequal housing,” Appelgate explains. “We don’t want to follow those old patterns, and we need to be intentional about reversing past choices.”

Appelgate and Hauge both say there is a huge opportunity for a public awareness component around who “needs” affordable housing.

“I think people have a stereotype in their mind when they think of affordable housing,” Hauge says. “Workforce housing is for everyone. It’s for your son or daughter who just graduated and needs a place to live while making $35,000. It’s child care workers. It’s people who make your coffee in the morning. … People who work in our communities ought to be able to live here.”

For more information on the “Here We Grow” initiative, visit herewegrow.city.

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