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Payment slip-up slowed down affordable housing in Seattle

A year ago, 1,400 people showed up for 110 affordable units on Beacon Hill.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones
A year ago, 1,400 people showed up for 110 affordable units on Beacon Hill.

Seattle officials are calling for improvements in how the city holds developers accountable. That’s because of a problem the Office of City Auditor found in how the city tracks new construction.

A new auditshows some developers who agreed to pay for affordable housing were not held to their payment deadlines. Developers are granted extra floor space if they pay into an affordable housing fund. The audit shows at least 10 developers made late payments in recent years. In some cases city staff didn't collect enough, based on the size of the developer's building.

One company alone was late in paying $3.4 million for affordable housing.

City Councilmember Mike O'Brien requested the audit and says the city could have used that affordable housing money by now.

O'Brien: "In this housing crisis it's always great to have that money sooner so we can get affordable units built sooner. It's disappointing we didn't have those controls in place and I'm not happy about that."

The audit shows a total of $3.7 million in payments were late.

The city's Office of Housing is responsible for collecting the money. The payments are a key part of the city's plan to make more affordable housing available.

Now, O’Brien wants city staff to find a better way to track new construction.

O'Brien: "I want a system where anybody in the city can look at a project that's happening in their neighborhood and go to a website and see what that project is, and specifically what are their contributions to affordable housing. How is it calculated, how many units, how much money."

He says the way construction is tracked now is cumbersome and difficult for even the city auditor to follow.

The auditor is also recommending improvements within the city's Office of Housing and Department of Construction and Inspections.

Officials in those offices say they are working toward improving the issues outlined in the audit, though much of this work isn't complete.