Before (left) and after photos of a house in the Drake neighborhood that was painted as part of a grant program with Invest DSM. Photos special to the Business Record

A block challenge grant program spearheaded by the nonprofit Investment DSM has resulted in nearly $1.1 million of investment in four Des Moines neighborhoods, the City Council learned today.

Specifically, property owners in the Franklin, Drake, Columbus Park and Oak Park/Highland Park neighborhoods this year invested $660,360 in their properties, said Amber Lynch, executive director of Invest DSM, which invested an additional $437,929. 

“The block challenge grant has been a wildly successful program,” Lynch told the council during a virtual workshop today. The interest in the program “blew us away.”

Lynch said her goal this year was to have at least 50 properties included in the grant program. Instead, 240 properties took part. The average investment per property was $4,576, she said.
Invest DSM is a nonprofit group created in 2019 by the city of Des Moines and Polk County to strengthen and revitalize the city’s neighborhoods. 

The block challenge grant is one of four programs Invest DSM currently operates or will soon offer. Other programs include homeowner renovation, which is targeted at large projects; developer rehabilitation and new construction; and a commercial grant program that will be operational by late December, Lynch said.

Invest DSM plans to add a renovation program for new homebuyers and a program for rental single-family houses and multifamily, she said.

The challenge grant is for exterior improvements and is a matching grant of up to $2,500. One of the program’s rules is that several neighbors must participate in the program to receive the matching money.

If several property owners at a time make improvements, an entire block is affected, rather than just one parcel, Lynch has said previously.

Part of the grant program’s success can be attributed to property owners spending more time at home this year because of the pandemic, Lynch said. “They looked around at the improvements that they’ve been [waiting to do] for years, and we gave them just that little bit of incentive to get going on them.”

The exterior improvements, which included installing new garage doors, replacing crumbling sidewalks and driveways, painting houses and garages, and adding new windows and doors, would likely not have happened without the program, Lynch said.

“I think people would have spent [their money] on a vacation, or a new TV or paying off bills,” she said.


A look at investment by neighborhood

Columbus Park
Block challenge grant: 10 participants; total investment of $52,636.
Homeowner renovation program: Six applications; three projects approved.
Development activity: Seven properties acquired; six demolitions completed; one rehab project planned for next year.

Drake
Block challenge grant: 79 participants; total investment of $349,279.
Homeowner renovation program: 15 applications; four projects approved.
Development activity: Three properties acquired; one rehab project in progress and two planned for next year.

Franklin 
Block challenge grant: 138 participants; total investment of $642,999.
Homeowner renovation program: 59 applications; 12 projects approved.
Development activity: Two projects underway.

Oak Park/Highland Park
Block challenge grant: 13 participants; total investment of $53,373.
Homeowner renovation program: Four applications.
Development activity: 
Six properties acquired; two demolitions pending; two rehab projects underway.