Des Moines City Councilwoman Christine Hensley counted up the tax credit request for the conversion of the Elliott Apartments into a market-rate rental property and decided the numbers didn’t add up.

The simple math is that the owners wanted to reduce the apartment count from 80 rent-assisted efficiencies to 15 one-bedroom units and 49 studios. Market-rate rents still amount to about $1.40 per square foot these days, though several multifamily owners are trying for more.

So long to affordable apartments at the Elliott.

The tax credit ask is $1 million from the Iowa workforce housing program, $1.8 million in state historic tax credits and nearly $1.5 million in federal historic tax credits. The property qualifies for 100 percent abatement of property taxes for 10 years on the value of improvements. The estimated savings is $1.65 million. Tax credits and the property tax waiver amount to nearly $6 million on an $8.2 million project.

It is no secret that Hensley supports residential and commercial development in the city. But she would like to see some affordable units included in the mix of new apartments at the Elliott.

As the city staff works toward a development agreement for the Elliott, Hensley wants the conversation to include the addition of affordable apartments. In fact, she hopes her motion to support the tax credit allocations will trigger a broader policy discussion.

City staffers aren't shy about asking developers to include affordable apartments in their plans. The Indianapolis developers who plan 211 apartments for an area called District at 6th in the city’s Market District will make 10 percent of the units affordable to people earning about 80 percent of the area median income. That provision was included at the city’s request. The company, TWG Development, plans a larger project near Southridge Mall where 228 of 288 apartments will be affordable to people earning 60 percent of the area median income.

Hensley pointed out that affordable apartments are disappearing downtown, and she has heard that the 77-unit Jefferson Apartments at 1519 Grand Ave. might not continue as a source of low-cost housing.

Matt Anderson, assistant city manager, would like to see the discussion over the need for affordable housing spread across Greater Des Moines.

In Des Moines, "Although I (and the development community) would prefer consistency in our agreements, we can negotiate specific terms for every project," he said. 

There is little question that the bulk of rent-assisted units are in Des Moines proper. According to data from the National Housing Preservation Database, of the 5,716 units in Polk County that receive low-income housing tax credits, 3,857 are located in Des Moines.

A national transportation consultant acknowledged last week that locating affordable housing closer to major employment centers in Greater Des Moines could help alleviate a funding dilemma at Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority.

At the Elliott, no one is paying rent these days, regardless of the rate. The apartments have been empty since a fire in June 2016.