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purchase home with arch

This ARCH home in Bellevue is currently on the market for $575,000. Photo by KW Eastside.

Where we live: Buying our first home with ARCH

A boost for lower-income first-time buyers

When I was a little girl, I thought a house with stairs was a sign of great success. Growing up the child of Korean immigrants, there was nothing more I yearned for. And there was nothing I was more ashamed of than my small one-story house in Renton, located in a neighborhood other kids called ‘the ghetto’ or ‘the hood’ back in the early ‘90s.

Of course, by the time I was an adult, there was nothing I would have loved more than a house in my childhood neighborhood. 

Unfortunately, when I returned to Renton after several years in the military, I was faced with a shocking fact: I could not afford a house in the neighborhood I grew up in. Rapid gentrification meant the small, cinder-block houses that were a source of shame growing up were now beyond my means. The irony doesn’t escape me.  

Purchase home with arch

The author, Joan King, purchased her first home through the ARCH program. Photo courtesy Joan King.

Accessing the dream

Beyond wanting to raise my children in a property we owned, I’d seen the sacrifices that my parents made to move to this country. For me, owning a home was the epitome of success and fulfilled the American Dream. Since then, I’ve become more disillusioned with that dream, which values meritocracy over equity when it comes to housing. But, when I gave birth to my son in 2013, my primary goal was to own a home to shield my son from the misguided shame I felt as a child, a place where I could curate Christmas traditions I missed as a child. When I was a child, we couldn’t even afford Christmas lights. 

My husband and I are both Air Force veterans. I am grateful to the military for providing me with a chance to find financial stability and for its generous educational benefits. But there are a lot of misconceptions about Veterans Administration (VA) benefits and housing. For example, a lot of people tout our access to VA home loans, where a vet can purchase a home for zero percent down. It’s a great benefit, but it doesn’t address the monster of a mortgage payment veteran home buyers face since there is no down payment to alleviate monthly payments. 

The truth is that it is still best to put money down. Despite the “benefit” we were entitled to, my husband and I were discouraged and wondered if owning was even a possibility.

Hunting for a home

We moved to Washington in 2014 and stayed at my mother’s home while we hunted for a house, wondering how we would afford a home without a massive down payment. That’s when I came across a 1,200-square-foot condominium listing that claimed to be an ‘ARCH home.’ After some Googling and speaking to my realtor, I learned that A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH) provides affordable housing throughout King County for first-time homeowners who qualify as “low-income.” 

ARCH homes are offered for sale at affordable prices within market-rate housing developments and are available in a range of sizes, types, and price points. The organization has put properties on the market in Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue, Newcastle, Issaquah, Sammamish, Kenmore, Woodinville, Duvall, and unincorporated King County. Agreements made on how ARCH properties are used (covenants) help keep prices affordable long-term and ensure that they are owner-occupied (as opposed to subletting to others). 

Applying to ARCH

We did not hesitate to apply for the ARCH Issaquah Highlands condominium we’d found. Since my friends were paying around $2,000 to $3,000 a month for daycare at the time, I wanted to stay at home with our new baby to avoid those costs. This decision ultimately made us eligible for the program’s low-income requirement. 

The ARCH application process was surprisingly efficient, and we closed on the condo in approximately one month. We were shocked at the ease. 

One of the contingencies of purchasing an ARCH home is that there is a cap on how much you can ask for when selling your home. After living in our condominium for six years, we decided to move into a larger home in 2018. Just then, the housing market spiked in Issaquah. When there is an exponential increase in market value, ARCH increases its listing cap. 

After we requested the cap to be raised, we sold within a couple of months and profited almost $120,000 dollars. We turned around and put that profit right into a down payment in a  2,000-square-foot home in Covington. Our mortgage payment is now approximately $2,500. 

We have lived in our house for about five years now. Every Christmas, I put up our tree, promising myself to one day purchase a little home in my old Renton neighborhood where my husband and I can quietly retire. I’m sure that by then our knees will be grateful for a small home — without stairs.  

Learn more

Go to the ARCH Rental Program Income and Rent Guidelines at archhousing.org for information on income limits.

Read more:

Where we live: Two families own one home

About the Author

Joan King

A national Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) conference presenter and consultant, Dr. Joan King has a BA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing, an MA in English, and a Doctorate in Education. Her articles regarding Asian American voices have been published in TinyBeans.com, Mochi Magazine, Memoir Magazine, and Writerly Magazine.