Let's Catch Up: September


Derecho cleanup. Ten days after the derecho marauded through Des Moines on Aug. 10, leveling trees and power lines, the city began the cleanup. Public Works crews have hauled 9,261 loads to the MWA Compost Center at 1601 Harriett Street. In a few days, a bad-boy Vermeer tree shredder, manufactured in Pella, will arrive to reduce the piles. More details about curb pickups.

How to View New Police Policies. The City Council is deep into discussing how to reform police policies and procedures. You can now view half of the reformed DMPD General Orders on the Des Moines City website. Here’s a quick link. The remaining 15 DMPD chapters are still under review. The Council will take up chapters involving the use of force and body cameras at our Nov. 17 work session.

Almost Famous Opens in East Village. Almost Famous, a Cedar Rapids family-owned shop specializing in popcorn and ice cream, opened in late July on East Locust Street. Top personal favorites, Wisconsin White Cheddar popcorn and Zanzibar Chocolate ice cream, demolish all willpower. Please restrain me from entering if you notice me in the vicinity—of which I have been often.

Ride On! Des Moines Parks & Recreation has opened a new multi-use hiking and biking trail that connects Southeast First Street, near Mullet’s, to Easter Lake—about a 4½-mile pedal. “The trail is lovely, and I imagine it is going to be the prettiest trail in Central Iowa when the autumn leaves give it plenty of color,” writes Maryann Mori, noting the deep woods and terrain. Look for a trail dedication in the spring.

With this trail’s completion, there’s just a 3-mile gap between Des Moines and Carlisle. At its Sept. 14 meeting, the City Council approved a $400,000 grant application to help fund the anticipated $2.8 million cost of the final link, including a tunnel beneath Highway 65. Carlisle and the Warren County Conservation Board are co-applicants. 

Free Meals Program Wraps Up. In the past three months, the City of Des Moines distributed more than 10,000 meals through $350,000 in COVID-19 relief funds. A dozen or more sites were regular sites. Central Iowa Shelters and Services partnered with the City of Des Moines to organize the program.

Rental/mortgage Assistance Continues. Polk County and the City of Des Moines continue through the fall to avoid stave off evictions. Des Moines has $684,970 COVID-19 funds to distribute through HOME Inc. Polk County distributed about $500,000 in COVID-19 funds. City-directed funds alone should assist about 750 households, according to Community Development Director Chris Johansen.  One of the funds, managed by HOME Inc, receives about 150 calls a week, double the normal intake. Polk County Housing Trust Fund has helped residents at the courthouse before they have their actual eviction hearings to pay rent arrears and prevent eviction as well. 

Have you seen the “I’m Invested” yard signs popping up around Des Moines?

These signs—now in about 200 yards—are the first evidence of Invest DSM, a nonprofit venture of Polk County and the City of Des Moines, created late last year to improve four targeted neighborhoods. 

Earlier this year, Invest DSM awarded its first Block Challenge Grants to residents in all four neighborhoods: Oak Park/Highland Park, Drake, Franklin and Columbus Park. Among the first to sign up were homeowners on a four-block section along 44th Street, from University Avenue to College Avenue. 

Teva Dawson, a member of the Invest DSM stakeholder committee for the Franklin neighborhood, told her friend Missy Keenan, a 44th Street resident, about the challenge. Missy knew what a good program looked like without much of a sell:

  • Invest DSM reimburses 50% of the cost of exterior homeowner improvements (think curb appeal) when neighbors gather five or more households. If neighbors gather more than 10 households, Invest DSM awards a greater amount.

  • Easy-peasy process: Get one contractor proposal or gather a list of project items.

  • Submit a “before” photo.

  • Finish the project, and Invest DSM returns a match of up to $2,500 to the investing homeowners.

Through the 2020 Block Challenge programs, 219 homeowners and Invest DSM have put more than $885,000 into single-family homes. The Invest DSM share tallies about $361,000. I stopped by three 44th Street homes to learn impressions of the Block Challenge. 

A Co-Captain Steps Up

Anna and Adam Mason

Anna and Adam Mason have lived along 44th Street for a decade. With Invest DSM’s support, the couple replaced crumbling front steps, created raised beds around their front porch, and freshened up their landscaping. Total cost: $7,425.34 Invest DSM grant: $2,500.

Early on, Missy recruited Anna to serve as co-captain for the 44th Street effort. After creating a one-page program explanation, the neighbors dropped leaflets at each front door, and hosted a Zoom call to handle questions. Intending to get 10 households signed up for the Block Challenge, Missy and Anna submitted proposals for—wait for it—28 residents on 44th Street. Wowzers! Off and running.

“When I heard it was so easy to join,” Anna said, “of course we said ‘Yes!’ We needed to replace the steps since we moved in, so this was an easy decision.

“Missy recruited me to help out, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know our neighbors. I now know the names of 10 additional neighbors to call by name … not just by their dogs’ names!

Missy Keenan

Anna also has joined the Waveland Park Neighborhood Association and begun participating in meetings. “It’s a good feeling to be part of a neighborhood,” she says. “Our entire street looks so cheerful.”

Recent Residents’ DIY

Joe and Melinda Doerhoff are relatively new to the 44th Street neighborhood—just a tick over two years—and were eager to make changes to their home. They didn’t need a calculator to figure out the advantages of completing several to-do tasks. Their summer projects included replacing front windows, repairing the front porch, and installing a new garage door and new garage entry door. Total cost: $5,678. Invest DSM grant: $2,500.

Melinda and Joe Doerhoff

Aside from the difficulty finding a reputable company to repair their home’s stucco (the Des Moines area has few such contractors), Joe and Melinda couldn’t have been more pleased with Invest DSM’s application process, speedy approval, and quick reimbursement.

To stretch their grant dollars, the Doerhoffs completed most of the upgrades themselves. “We had a lot of neighbors stop by and talk to us,” Joe recalls. “When I started tearing out the old porch stairs, they were amazed we were doing the work ourselves.”

Joe built new porch steps and replaced the porch deck with maintenance-free composite flooring. With the stucco repaired, Joe painted the entire exterior a fresh green. “The original blue had to go,” Melinda says. “Some of the neighbors had fun guessing what shade of green we would pick.” A former owner walked through their house and filled in details about what it looked like 30 years ago.

Pollinating Friendship

Melanie and Brian Johnson

Up the street from the Doerhoffs, Melanie and Brian Johnson built new patios by their front door, and where a dying ash tree shaded most of the front yard, added raised beds loaded with native plants. “I already had designed the new plant beds, Melanie says, “so working up a materials list, plant list, and budget was easy.” Total cost: $2,000. Invest DSM grant: $1,000.

The plants brought welcomed pollinators. “This summer, we counted six different varieties of bees in the yard,” Melanie recalls. “It’s been a lot of fun for the kids, too! And we discovered that across the street, our neighbor Mike Buckley has