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Condo for sale after Olympia power couple violates affordable housing rules

A husband and wife, who are both high-level government administrators, are required to sell a Bellevue condo they bought 10 years ago through an affordable housing program.

BELLEVUE, Wash. — A “for sale” ad is now posted for a condominium in the Old Bellevue neighborhood listing the unit for $263,652.

It’s a stand-out, low price in a posh neighborhood where condos are pushing a million dollars are everywhere, but that’s the price that A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH) affordable housing has set for the unit’s owners, John Aultman and his wife Nona Snell-Aultman.

Aultman, senior education policy adviser for Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and Snell, chief deputy clerk of the Washington House of Representatives, have been forced to sell the unit they own at the McKee Condominiums after ARCH determined they violated one of the program’s strictest policies.

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. 

A 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 Inslee’s office.

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

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The Aultmans denied that they knowingly violated ARCH rules, and said they asked ARCH for permission to allow a relative to live in their Bellevue condo.  ARCH says it has no record of that request, and such a request would not have been granted.

When the Aultman’s listing went up late last week, the governor’s office said it considered the matter closed.

“As the governor said when you asked him back in December, we hope that out of this case that there are lessons learned by all parties, including ARCH management. The governor’s office considers this issue to be resolved. The Aultmans worked with the city of Bellevue on resolution when it was determined that they were out of compliance,” said spokesperson Tara Lee.

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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 and at 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.

Emails received through a public records request show that ARCH was first tipped about violations at the McKee in January 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.

WATCH: Who are the Aultmans?

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.

“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,” says the violation notice sent to the Aultmans in January.

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 Aultmans' 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.

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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 Attorney Mary Kate Berens said the other McKee owner served with a violation notice, Li, has not responded to the city’s notice.

A third McKee owner, Sandy Yin, sold her unit 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.

In a January meeting, the ARCH executive board made preliminary plans to tighten monitoring of thousands of affordably priced rental units that the program oversees as well.

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