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City Failed To Account For $4.6M In Affordable Housing Funds, Watchdog Says

 Eighty-eight affordable apartments are set to be built at 2031 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Eighty-eight affordable apartments are set to be built at 2031 N. Milwaukee Ave.
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CITY HALL — About $4.6 million set aside to help low-income Chicagoans find an affordable place to live was not properly accounted for by Chicago officials, according to an audit released Tuesday by the city's inspector general.

In response to Inspector General Joseph Ferguson's audit, city officials said all of the nearly $4.6 million in question had been spent on affordable housing projects from the city's main bank account — there's just no way to prove that. 

The city's Office of Management and Budget acknowledged that the city's past accounting practices made keeping track of how affordable housing fees were spent "challenging," but said a separate fund created in 2015 for affordable housing projects will correct the problems discovered by Ferguson and his staff.

Ferguson said he was disappointed that city officials had declined to follow his recommendation to return the nearly $4.6 million in question to the city's Affordable Housing Fund.

"A lack of strategy and undelivered resources has negatively impacted the options available to those in need," Ferguson said.

The city's affordable housing ordinance applies to any development of 10 or more units that needs special approval by city officials, is on city-owned land or is subsidized by taxpayer funds.

Developers must to set aside 10 percent of their units to be sold or rented at below-market rates. Thirty percent of those affordable units — offered for rent at 60 percent of the market rate — must be built on site, but developers can pay a fee of $125,000 per unit to meet the remaining requirement, which city officials are supposed to use to build affordable housing units elsewhere in the city.

In all, the city collected $89.9 million from developers from 2003-15, according to the report.

Noting that large number, the audit suggests city officials develop goals to ensure that affordable housing is built throughout the city.

Ferguson's audit also criticized the Chicago Community Land Trust, saying it has never been "sufficiently funded to achieve its mission of acquiring land for the creation of affordable housing units."

Instead, the nonprofit organization founded in 2006 has only screened low-income homebuyers and offered workshops on how to buy a home, according to the audit.

The audit recommended that the organization be dissolved and its duties performed by employees of the city's Department of Planning and Development.

However, city officials told Ferguson that the nonprofit will continue to operate but drop the "land trust" from its name to more accurately reflect its mission.