In the past two decades, 28% of the single-family houses that had been in a 260-acre area known as the Market District have disappeared, a review of Polk County assessor records shows.

Some of the houses were razed with the eastward extension of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. Others were lost when new development occurred. Still others were torn down because of their dilapidated state.

Concern exists that in the coming years, even more of the area’s houses will be removed to make way for new development as it moves south of ML King Parkway.

Many of the 81 remaining in the area roughly bounded by East Court Avenue, Southeast Fourteenth Street, Scott Avenue and the Des Moines River are south of ML King Parkway, assessor records show. Some are in a dilapidated state; others in recent years have been refurbished, boosting their values.

Many of the Market District’s remaining houses are affordably priced, something the city – and the entire metro area – is in need of, said Eric Burmeister, executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund.

“The question that needs asked is whether the city of Des Moines’ redevelopment strategy is an equitable strategy where we look to create a community that is diverse both racially and economically,” Burmeister said. “Or, is it OK to simply say that we want this place to look really spiffy and we hope that it increases the taxable assessed valuation so the city can collect more tax dollars.”

Burmeister acknowledges that many of the houses that were removed from the Market District were in disrepair. The dilapidated state of the houses can be traced back to the 1930s with the creation of a federal home loan program whose goal was to prop up failing banks and help Americans become homeowners, he said. The program, however, also implemented a discriminatory lending practice called redlining that advised banks where they could lend money.

That practice made it nearly impossible for homeowners in the Market District, as well as other parts of the city, to get loans needed to make improvements to their houses, Burmeister said. It also made it difficult for homebuyers to get loans to buy properties in the area, referred to on decades-old lending maps as D5. The result, he said, was decades of poorly maintained – or abandoned – houses in the area. 

And even after the passage in 1968 of the Fair Housing Act, which made redlining illegal, obtaining loans for home improvements or to buy a house in the Market District remained difficult, Burmeister said. “That disinvestment in residential real estate went on for a long time. You may have some philanthropic investment [in housing] going on in the area now, but not much by anyone else.”

A master plan released last fall for the Market District said the area “should yield” up to 3,300 multifamily units and 100 or more townhouses. It also suggested that 1 out of every 10 rental units developed should be made available as workforce or affordable housing. 

What the plan didn’t address was what would happen to the area’s current single-family housing stock. 

“Some of the houses are within an area that we envision being redeveloped someday,” said Ryan Moffatt, Des Moines’ economic development coordinator. “If we look back to our master planning, a big piece of the feedback that we got was to find a way to incorporate affordability.

“We want to make sure we have a district that not only offers different housing product types that we would love to see from medium to high density … and also make sure there’s an affordability component built into the project.”

Agreements with the developers of the three new apartment projects in Market District all required a few units for workforce housing, Moffatt said. 

Joe Gatto, the Des Moines City Council member whose ward includes the Market District, said providing affordably priced housing in the area is a priority.
Still, he added, “I’m glad some of the quality of housing we had here is gone. Even if a house is affordable, we have to make sure it provides a certain standard of living, and some of those houses didn’t.”

Paul Hayes, president of JSC Properties, last fall told the council that the area the development group is eyeing needs to include affordable housing “so that employees will be closer to the jobs created in this space.” 

Details released in June about the area JSC Properties plans to redevelop include at least one mixed-use housing development by TWG LLC, based in Indianapolis. The proposed six- to nine-story building would include up to 180 units, 20% of which are expected to provide workforce housing. 



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