DES MOINES, Iowa—We're standing in a trendy one-bedroom apartment with polished concrete floors, modern appliances, and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over downtown. The surrounding neighborhood is dotted with brick-facade factories that are being converted into high-end apartment buildings, bustling side streets that lead to restaurants like Zombie Burger and Tacopocalypse, and stores that sell rustic home decor and graphic T-shirts that unapologetically proclaim Des Moines "the greatest city in the world."
"If you make less than $41,000 a year, this one-bedroom right here is $780 a month," says Tim Rypma, the 34-year-old owner of this new 20-unit apartment building in the heart of the East Village neighborhood in downtown Des Moines.
That's $780, for an apartment that could run two, three, maybe four times that in other cities across the country. Every new apartment building going up in Des Moines must reserve half of its units for lower-income tenants. It's rent control for young couples or a twentysomething looking for affordable living fresh out of college. But those aren't necessarily the residents most in need of cheap housing in the region.
The Des Moines area is thought to be one of the most affordable metropolitan areas in the country; the cost of living is six percent below the national average. The city offers tax credits as an incentive for developers to transform old industrial spaces into creative, new living spaces in the downtown area. Those new apartments must maintain their rent rates for 10 years after they're built. But these same rent-control measures in the downtown area aren't being taken in other residential parts of the Des Moines area that are more attractive to lower-income, working families.