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Affordable housing through ARCH:  Update from King5 News investigation August 5, 2019

The Issaquah City Council Services and Safety Committee will hear a proposal for renewing the City’s funding for ARCH tonight (March 12, 2019 at 6:30pm) , a renewal with strings attached. To understand why such strings were attached, let’s go back to the King 5 News February 12 investigative report on affordable housing in Issaquah Highlands in which owners were suspected of violating, and maybe even profiting from, the rules put in place to provide affordable housing to low income buyers.

ARCH, A Regional Coalition for Housing, supports 15 cities on the eastside in efforts to provide affordable housing to income-qualified buyers and renters in our notoriously inflated regional housing market. Some homeowners in Issaquah Highlands (and elsewhere) were suspected of violating the principle residence rule, and perhaps even profiting from it. This rule says the homeowner must live in the unit as their primary residence.

The story stirred outrage in the community, evidenced by heated comments on Facebook. To improve understanding and provide context and history to the King 5 investigation, we published our own story called “Affordable Housing in Issaquah Highlands 101”.

On February 25, King 5 followed up with a story they called, “Housing Hijack” where they introduced a new ARCH homeowner in Issaquah Highlands, Linda Timon, who purchased an affordable housing unit as her principle residence. The 72-year-old retiree lives on a fixed income and calls her move to Issaquah Highlands, “A dream came true when I found this, and it was affordable.”

But unlike Linda, King 5 had found four home owners who could be violating their ARCH purchase contract by renting out their homes. After King 5 reported on these homeowners earlier in February, ARCH issued a statement that explains that a number of these owners acknowledge they are out of compliance and are now “working with ARCH to sell their homes to qualified buyers.”

This statement also reports that ARCH has hired a consultant to audit the 700 homes and thousands of rental units that are in their program, with a report due out mid-2019.

“ARCH takes any abuse of its affordable housing program very seriously and we are actively working to find solutions to improve the program,” said Lindsay Masters, Executive Manager for ARCH. “At a time where affordable housing is one of the top issues in our region, it’s important that these units go to those who need them most. We appreciate the collaborative approach our member cities have taken to address these issues.”

On March 4, 2019, the City of Issaquah introduced an agenda bill detailing the City’s 2019 ARCH Work Program, AB 7721. This bill renews funding for ARCH and includes a provision that requires ARCH to monitor affordable ownership and rental units, and to review their monitoring policies and procedures. (See details right.)

AB 7721 will be presented at the March 12, 2019 Council Services & Safety Committee for review and recommendation, returning for a vote of the full Council on April 1, 2019.

You can watch the meeting live on Channel 21 or on ICTV . ICTV will also make it available to play on demand after the meeting.

City of Issaquah AB 7721: 2019 ARCH Work Program

  1. B. Program Improvements

Review and update compliance monitoring practices and procedures. Make adjustments as needed in both monitoring procedures and, as necessary, program agreements and covenants.

In addition, ARCH will evaluate staff capacity to maintain or increase current levels of oversight as the number of ARCH homes continues to grow.

Background Highlights of the City’s 2019 ARCH Work Program (Exhibit A) include:

  • Administration of the regional ARCH Trust Fund;
  • Monitoring of affordable ownership and rental units, and review of monitoring policies and procedures;
  • Facilitating the development of a Transit Oriented Development;
  • Assisting City staff with implementation of Housing Strategies including:
    • improving marketing and understanding of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) and the ADU process;
    • identifying and seeking out affordable multifamily projects for retention as affordable housing choices; o lobbying the state to mitigate/offset deterrents to condominium development;
    • assisting with incorporation of code provisions to increase the potential diversity of housing types built in the City; and
    • supporting housing options and services to assist people experiencing housing insecurity and those with barriers to independent living.

In the 2019 Budget (Exhibit B), ARCH proposed a 3.55% increase to all of its member jurisdictions. This increases Issaquah’s portion from $43,666 in 2018 to $45,217 in 2019. The Budget covers annual staffing and overhead expenses.

Recommendation: ARCH staff serve as the City’s housing planners and are a much-needed asset. The Administration recommends Council approve the proposed 2019 ARCH Work Program and Budget.