The city of West Des Moines is an affluent, growing community in the Des Moines metropolitan area. However, it faces challenges when it comes to affordable housing. Market rate single family housing is the typical type of development seen in West Des Moines, as it is in most suburban communities, but this pattern of development prices a large portion of the city’s labor force out of the market. West Des Moines’ continually growing retail landscape means that there is an increasing amount of service sector employees who cannot afford to live in the city in which they work.
The City of West Des Moines is a suburban community with a population of 59,296 and an unemployment rate of 4.1%. It has recently become a regional retail destination, due to the massive Jordan Creek Town Center, which opened in 2004. The mall is the largest in the state of Iowa, and is one of three shopping complexes in the city. West Des Moines is considered to be a bedroom community for Des Moines. It is home to a growing number of young professionals, and it is the fourth most expensive city in Des Moines with regards to buying a home. Only other nearby suburbs are more expensive. Where do retail workers fit into this landscape?
The answer is that the people who work in the vast retail landscape of West Des Moines cannot actually afford to live in the city, and are therefore not considered in its demographics. These employees must find affordable housing elsewhere in Des Moines proper, which means longer and more difficult commutes. West Des Moines has had trouble bringing in affordable housing because of significant pushback from current residents, who do not want to see higher-density, multi-unit housing developments in their community. Another reason is that the city is not willing to offer the same tax abatements that the city of Des Moines offers developers for affordable housing. West Des Moines is also not prepared for the strain that higher-density development will likely place on its infrastructure.
The retail workers of West Des Moines seem to be an invisible presence. Because they can’t afford to actually live in the city, it is difficult to make urban planning decisions in their favor as they do not have much of a voice in the community. Instead of complaining about tax abatements and infrastructure costs, West Des Moines should accept these service sector employees as valuable members of the community who deserve housing.
Do the suburbs in your city suffer from a lack of affordable housing? What is being done to address these concerns?
Credits: Images by Molly Carpenter. Data linked to sources.