Neighborhood Improvements

Neighborhood Improvement priorityMany Des Moines homeowners have experienced a loss of equity as their property values have decreased due to nearby nuisance properties, aging infrastructure or the financial inability to make improvements to their property.

Local Option revenue has been committed to improving the City’s ability to remove uninhabitable properties, as well as expanded library hours and provided financial assistance to homeowners invested in the improvement of their home and neighborhood.

FY2021 Local Option expenditures

Neighborhood Improvements
Blitz on Blight
Invest DSM - Special Investment Districts $2,500,000 $2,825,855
Property Improvement Program $250,000 $55,599
Neighborhood Matching Grants $100,000 $229,250
Rental Housing Enhancements $250,000
Expanded Library Hours $381,100 $381,100
#LadderUp Social Equity Grant Program $100,000
Total Budget $3,581,100 $3,491,804

Blitz on Blight

Local Option revenue funded the creation of a program called Blitz on Blight, an accelerated response to reported nuisance properties that property owners are unable to address themselves. This program is designed to work through the backlog of reported public nuisance structures throughout the city that have reached the point of needing to be demolished. Demolition is sometimes a cost-prohibitive option to address neglectful, absentee property owners.

• Completed Demolitions
$506,260 in total estimated demolition costs, January 2020-July 2021.

In 2020 and the first half of 2021, 90 inspections were completed for nuisance properties that were reported, and 30 demolitions at an estimated total cost of $506,260 have been completed. Due to a backlog of properties still needing a court decree before the City can take action, no Local Option revenue was budgeted for this program this year. Instead, government bonds funded this year’s demolitions. The City’s process for addressing these properties includes completing an inspection, filing City Council supported legal action, obtaining a court decree, providing needs-based extensions, and finally, tasking the City’s Engineering Department to work with contractors to safely remove unsafe structures in neighborhoods throughout Des Moines. After an unsafe structure is demolished and debris is cleared, property owners maintain ownership of the property to either sell to an interested developer or seek local support to redevelop the property themselves.

A total of 64 public nuisance structures have been demolished through the Blitz on Blight program, as shown on the map below. An additional 43 structures are ready for demolition, and 25 rehabilitation agreements have been reached to repurpose deteriorated structures.

Residents can follow the status of the program at The online dashboard includes a frequently updated summary of the total demolitions completed and the estimated cost the City has spent to complete the process. In addition to a list of recent demolitions, you can track how many reported properties are in each stage of the program’s process, including the number of rehabilitation agreements reached.

Special Investment Districts

This mandated Local Option priority is to provide funding for the implementation of improvements identified in small area plans, developed as part of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. Special Investment Districts (SIDs) are selected by City Council, and this funding is designated to support the acquisition, demolition, rehabilitation/repair or new construction of housing, as well as the acquisition and holding costs associated with redevelopment. This program also supports lending programs and related services for the purpose of residential or commercial property improvement and neighborhood beautification or community building projects.

Last year using Local Option revenue, the City of Des Moines partnered with Polk County to establish Invest DSM, a unique collaboration to bring a renewed commitment to neighborhood revitalization throughout Des Moines. $2.8 million of Local Option revenue supported this initiative in FY2021.

Invest DSM is dedicated to working in each of the City’s four wards, piloting strategies in four SIDs. The team cultivates partnerships between residents, homeowners, potential homeowners, developers, contractors, business owners and commercial property owners to invest in strengthening middle-market neighborhoods.

The goal of the program is to learn how specific investments impact the increase of equity of residents within these districts and apply successful strategies to additional areas of Des Moines that would benefit from focused investment.

These are the initial Special Investment Districts that City Council directed Invest DSM to start their work:

Oak Park / Highland Park
Historic neighborhood business district surrounded by well-built homes plus beautiful McHenry Park overlooking the river — a great value close to downtown employment and amenities.

Drake Area
Beautiful historic homes on stately boulevards in an eclectic and diverse neighborhood, home to Drake University, friendly neighbors, and unique community events.

Franklin Area
Charming homes on tree-lined streets with friendly neighbors; top-rated schools in a convenient location; walk and bike to neighborhood icons.

Columbus Park
Little Italy on the rivers, spectacular views of downtown, affordable single-family homes plus upscale, modern apartments.

Invest DSM is also currently seeking development partners to bring high-quality new construction of single-family homes, rowhomes, and townhomes into existing Des Moines neighborhoods. 

Learn more about how Invest DSM is improving our neighborhoods by visiting 

Property Improvement Program

While City Council action on this program has been delayed until FY2022, Local Option revenue will be used to move this program forward. Once approved by City Council, this program will look at the exterior of all owner-occupied and commercial buildings throughout the city for exterior maintenance problems and work with property owners to address them.

The City plans to work with community businesses, faith-based organizations, and other groups to establish needs-based support for those financially or otherwise unable to maintain the exterior of their property.

Neighborhood Matching Grant

This new program is designed to award small grants to neighborhood and community groups for improvement projects that build their leadership skills and help their neighbors. A total of $229,250 was invested in this program and helped fund improvements to front entryways, windows, siding, driveways, retaining walls, and more. Click here to learn more and how to apply.

Matching financial support from the City is available to multiple neighbors that join together to invest in an improvement for their neighborhood. While we had great participation in the program this year and overspent our designated budget, our financial reserve will be used to cover the difference and provide an additional $100,000 for the program in FY2022.

Rental Housing Enhancements

While no Local Option revenue was used to fund rental housing enhancements in FY2021, staff have begun to lay the groundwork for improving the health and safety of tenants. Meetings with landlords were held to discuss potential changes to rental code, including requirements related to knockout panels and separated HVAC systems.

Future investment in this initiative will fund an analysis of our rental housing inspection process and provide additional resources to make sure our rental housing stock in Des Moines is brought up-to-code.

#LadderUp Social Equity Grant

The #LadderUp Social Equity Grant program seeks to support organizations or programs that are working to address disparities or filling the gap in economic achievement, primarily for residents in minority groups. The Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission voted to award 50% of available funds to local non-profits in September 2021. Learn more.

Expanded Library Hours

Local Option revenue helped remove a barrier for those that depend on services the Des Moines Public Library provides. Operating hours at all six DMPL branches were expanded, including service every day at Central Library and Franklin Avenue Library.

With COVID-19 preventing safe physical access to the libraries, the Local Option funds budgeted for this initiative were slightly reduced for the time branches were temporarily closed during the first part of FY2021. DMPL has been able to focus on expanding its online and curbside pickup services, and has successfully reopened public access to branches with safety precautions in place.