Affordable Housing in Issaquah Highlands 101

There’s been quite a lot of talk about affordable housing in Issaquah Highlands lately, and for good reason. King 5 News broke an investigative story about affordable housing violations in our community, touching a nerve. Affordable housing is an important asset in The Highlands, clearly defined in our founding documents, and an asset many residents wish to honor and protect.

What is behind the controversy? You can watch the King 5 story here>>, but let’s get behind that story and explore the history and background, in a basic way.

Issaquah Highlands Founding Documents
1996 Development Agreement Emphasizes Affordable Housing

Affordable housing was a priority, clearly stated in the 1996 Issaquah Highlands (AKA Grand Ridge) Development Agreement (DA) with the City of Issaquah. In a section called “Guiding Principles,” income-qualified, affordable housing was valued as adding to our quality of life.

  • Guiding Principle #3 – Integrated Diversity: To accommodate a diversity of incomes, household makeups, lifestyles, activities, land uses, public and private spaces, and architectural expression in the integrated mix that enhances the richness of peoples lives.

The principle was then detailed as policy in the DA under Planning Concepts and Values, in a section dedicated to Affordable Housing and in the Affordable Housing Standards Appendix (see sidebar).

Issaquah Highlands development was also governed by a three-party agreement between Issaquah, King County and the master developer, called the “Joint Agreement,” where the amount of income-qualified, affordable housing was defined (see sidebar).

This simplified overview explains the commitment but not the complications. For instance, additional language governed the resale of units. Some homes were “deed-restricted” if that home purchase was funded by a public subsidy with its own resale restrictions. Such rules were expanded and got stricter in later years.

King 5 Investigation of IH Affordable Housing

Affordable Housing Owners Exposed for Violations
On February 12, King 5’s Chris Ingalls published his investigative story exposing owners of affordable housing in Issaquah Highlands who break the rules. One of these rules is that owners of affordable housing are required to be the resident of that unit. Any exceptions must be applied for, time limited, and approved. Other rules restrict the resale value of affordable units.

The story was a hot topic on social media in Issaquah Highlands mostly with legitimate, resident owners of affordable housing defending the program, explaining the rules, and calling out the violators for sullying the reputation of a valuable program. One comment complained that they knew ARCH buyers who violated the income qualification rules by reporting only one income in the household. Commenters said more should be done to enforce the rules.

ARCH – A Regional Coalition for Housing

Eastside Cities Collaborate to Off-Set the High Cost of Housing
Talk about affordable housing can get confusing in a hurry. From Seattle to the rural areas of King County, it is a challenging topic and full of controversy. Here in Issaquah Highlands, “affordable housing” is managed through the City of Issaquah’s membership in the public agency, A Regional Coalition for Housing, or more commonly known as ARCH.

ARCH was created in 1992 by several suburban governments in Eastside King County. Now 15 cities including Issaquah, are members of ARCH. These cities work together rather than individually because they believe solutions to the area’s high-priced housing problem should be addressed regionally.

The ARCH program began very near the time Issaquah Highlands was being planned. Both were considered innovative and progressive. Over time the ARCH program has tightened up the regulations that governed the “affordable” properties under its jurisdiction.

In the King 5 story, ARCH Executive Director Lindsay Masters said that they have begun addressing the issue of residency by hiring a consultant to review ARCH properties that have a different mailing address, a clue to whether that home is the owner’s primary residence.

We have covered stories about affordable housing a great deal in the past. See issaquahhighlands.com . Just search “affordable housing” from the home page for more information on this topic.

Would you like to learn more about affordable housing in Issaquah Highlands? Email me at nina.m@ihcouncil.org with your questions and we will come back to this topic with more information in future stories.

Issaquah Highlands (Grand Ridge) Development Agreement 1996

Planning Concept and Values: A master plan for Grand Ridge promotes growth management and planning objectives including the following:

  1. Reasonably priced housing, including affordable housing;

Affordable Housing: Thirty percent (30%) of the residential units in the Project shall be affordable as provided in the Joint Agreement (the three-party agreement between the master developer, Issaquah and King County.

Affordable Housing Standards: Affordable housing distribution shall be 80/100/120% median income (based on King County data) as per the 3-Party, Joint Agreement.

Issaquah Highlands (Grand Ridge) Joint Agreement 1995

Affordable Housing: “30% of the project housing shall be affordable,” based on the original residential unit counts. Distribution shall be 10% each for 80/100/120% median incomes. The resulting total would be 975 affordable units in Issaquah Highlands.