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Olympia power couple forced to sell affordable Bellevue unit

New emails disclose ARCH tipped about violations one year ago, but didn't take action

An influential Olympia couple has until February 8 to decide if they will abide by the City of Bellevue’s demand that they sell an affordable housing condo unit that they’ve owned since 2009.

Bellevue determined that John Aultman, a senior education policy adviser for the governor’s office, and his wife Nona Snell Aultman, chief deputy clerk in the Washington House of Representatives, have been in violation of the terms of their condo agreement since 2016, records show. 

In November, the KING 5 investigators revealed that the Aultmans were one of three owners that purchased units at a Bellevue condominium under the ARCH affordable housing program.  The stories showed the owners of those condos did not actually live in them as required by ARCH rules. 

Condo owner Yan Li also received a violation notice.  She told KING 5 that she rented out her ARCH condo when she moved to California for a job transfer several years ago.

ARCH administers affordable housing programs on behalf of 15 east King County cities. Buyers purchase a home through ARCH below market price. If they decide to sell the home, ARCH sets the sale price to keep it at an affordable rate. 

ARCH requires buyers to live in the home they purchase, which discourages people using the property solely as investment income.  Renting out a property is prohibited, unless ARCH approves a waiver.

In November, KING reported that three of the nine ARCH units at the McKee Condominiums in Old Town Bellevue were being mis-used.

Emails received through a public records request show that ARCH was first tipped about violations at the McKee in January of 2018, including a specific tip about the Aultmans.

ARCH employee Jessie Tang acknowledged in one email that she was told that the Aultmans could be in violation of their contract, but wrote that the tipster “…. told me that the Aultmans were not renting. That is why I did not ask them to sell.”

But ARCH did take action 11 months later, after KING 5’s reports.

The Aultmans were not renting their McKee unit, but they weren’t living in it either. They both worked at the Capitol building in Olympia, and they’ve owned a house in Olympia since 2001.

The violation notice mailed to the Aultmans on January 8 says the McKee hasn’t been John Aultman’s principal residence since 2016.  In December 2015, Aultman left his job working for the Everett School District and started his education policy job with Governor Inslee’s office.

The violation notice sent by the City of Bellevue says the Aultman’s must sell their McKee unit, and they will be docked two years’ worth of equity in the sale price set by ARCH.

“ARCH and the City of Bellevue continue to find that you were in violation of the McKee Covenant as of 2016. The City of Bellevue is willing to approve a maximum resale price of $263,652, which is based on the date of the violation, but recognizes the formula and policies in effect in 2016,” the notice says.

The Aultmans purchased the McKee condo in 2009 for $206,000 after it had been on the market for more than 60 days. Under current ARCH rules, if a unit does not sell in 60 days the low to moderate income restrictions that buyers must meet are lifted.

The Aultman’s income, and the fact that they already owned a house in Olympia, did not disqualify them from purchasing the unit from a Bellevue teacher who had been trying to sell her ARCH condo for more than two months.

ARCH is now reviewing the 60-day policy and hiring a consultant to make other recommendations to improve the program, following KING 5’s reports.

ARCH is also considering an audit of the more than 700 homeowners who have purchased properties through its program designed for low to moderate income buyers.

Bellevue Deputy City Manager Mary Kate Berens said the other McKee owner served with a violation notice, Yan Li, has not responded to the city’s notice.

A third McKee owner, Sandy Yin, sold her unit just before KING 5’s stories aired.  Records show that Yin had been the source of years of complaints by the McKee owners association that she was renting her ARCH unit out.

Yin denied that she violated ARCH rules in an interview with KING 5 and she said she decided to sell her unit when it became clear that her grandmother would no longer need it.  ARCH says it forced Yin to sell after repeated complaints.

The Aultmans also denied that they broke any ARCH rules.  In emails before the November story, Nona Snell-Aultman said she received permission from ARCH to allow a relative to live in her unit.  She said they made plans over the summer to sell their McKee condo.

ARCH says there is no record of the Aultmans making such a request.