Affordable Housing Apartment in Urbandale Hits Major Roadblock

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URBANDALE, Iowa — According to the IRS, Urbandale has the fewest affordable housing units of any of the major Des Moines area suburb. A home developer says they’re ready to break ground on a 43-unit affordable housing complex but can’t get the green light from the city to do so.

“The census track that we’re standing in, half of the households earn less than $50,000 a year. We are bringing a housing option to this site that we believed families living nearby desperately need” said Russ Frazier, President of Anawim Housing.

Despite being a stone’s throw from another housing complex, the property is zoned for commercial development. The particular parcel sits on the southwest corner of the Merle Hay Mall property in what is now a parking lot. The Urbandale Zoning Commission had issues with the project fitting into their 2006 city plan, and the city council did not reach the super-majority needed to overrule the commission.

“There are parts of this project that were identified from not only a staff standpoint but from the council members who voted against this as far as the height of the project, the density of the project, the parking onsite, and the green space onsite were the primary concerns with this particular project” said Mayor Bob Andeweg.

Frazier believes his four-story project satisfies those question marks and the city’s 2006 comprehensive plan which calls for redevelopment of the proposed site, promote new housing construction particularly in the Downtown Urbandale Neighborhood, and acknowledges that down-zoning some commercial areas along Douglas Avenue would be beneficial. The project would require no money from the city, and Anawim would be getting 7.5 million dollars in tax credits from the Iowa Finance Authority.

“But we need to move on this today. By this time next week, we’ll tear up this check it will go to some other project across the state but nowhere near Polk County” said Frazier.

Mayor Andeweg says the developer moved too quickly on the project and didn’t have approval to build before they submitted their application.

“We don’t like to turn money away, but the fact is Anawim had to lock in a particular site by a certain deadline and if they would have come to us before and started the re-zoning before here or someplace else, we could have worked through those issues before” he said.

The Polk County Housing Trust Fund weighed in on the decision saying:

To not approve a project like the one Anawim housing has proposed, which already has substantial funding commitments from the Iowa Finance Authority and the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, speaks volumes regarding the missed opportunity to make a difference and the need for a regional plan that includes all of our communities.

Councilman Tom Gayman and David Russell voted against the project.  Mayor Andweg says they love the idea of more affordable housing and have worked with Anawim before, but that this is simply the right project, wrong location.  He also says they are not against housing in that general area, but would want a proposal to come in with a more comprehensive revitalization plan involving more spaces around the Merle Hay Mall.

The issue goes before the council on Tuesday’s meeting.


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