Expedia and City of Seattle debut affordability tool born from Innovation Advisory Council project

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Expedia Group CEO Mark Okerstrom (right) walks Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (left) through the plans for the company’s new campus. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

It’s been a little over a year since Seattle tech companies on the city’s novel Innovation Advisory Council got to work on civic projects. Today, the City and Expedia are debuting one of the first products born out of the public-private partnership.

Affordable Seattle is a new website that helps residents calculate which city services they are eligible for, based on their income, family size, and zip code. Seattle offers benefits like discounted childcare, down payment assistance, subsidized transit cards, and more. But it isn’t always clear to residents which services they qualify for — and not everyone has the time to sort through the fine print across city websites.

That’s where the affordability calculator comes in. It’s one of seven technology projects scoped for the city and built by Seattle technology companies.

Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia, and other tech companies in the area joined the Innovation Advisory Council when Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan launched it in 2018. Following the announcement, the council convened and the city identified seven projects that could benefit from tech workers’ time and expertise. In April, Durkan’s office unveiled those projects, which deal with issues like affordable housing, homeless services, and earthquake preparedness.

Flying Fish Managing Partner Heather Redman (left) interviews Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan at a Female Founders Alliance event in Seattle this week. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

The City of Seatle’s Innovation and Performance team designed Affordable Seattle in early 2018 but did not have the resources to get off the ground. Through the Innovation Advisory Council, Expedia organized 28 employee volunteers to build the project. From there, 30 city employees populated the site with content.

“Expedia not only built a working prototype, they stuck with the project until the project was completely transitioned to City of Seattle and launched publicly,” said Leah Tivoli, the city project manager for Affordable Seattle. “Expedia ran code reviews with Seattle IT staff and supported the City in refining the site until it was ready for launch.”

The Innovation Advisory Council is one of the first of its kind in the nation, according to Kate Garman, the mayor’s technology policy advisor. In addition to Seattle’s largest tech companies, the Technology Access Foundation, Artefact, F5, Facebook, Flying Fish Partners, Loftium, Twitter, and others signed on.

“Why should we, in the City of Seattle, be sitting in one of the most innovative, talent-rich ecosystems literally on the planet — and yet government exists as if it has no relationship to it,” Durkan said this week at an event in Seattle, talking about the Innovation Advisory Council. “How can we draw some of that talent, those ideas, that innovation and have them solve some of our challenges?”

When the Innovation Advisory Council finishes its first round of projects, city officials and tech companies will brainstorm new ideas to tackle. That due diligence will include a series of knowledge exchanges in which city employees and tech workers will give talks and sit on panels to educate one another on their work and needs.

Expedia is in the process of moving from its longtime home of Bellevue, Wash., to a massive new campus on the Seattle waterfront. The company is renovating several buildings on the former campus of biotech giant Amgen and adding two new ones. The campus could eventually house more than 8,000 workers, which would make Expedia one of Seattle’s largest employers.

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