Bill Would Allow District Land Purchases to Increase Affordable Housing Units 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau unveiled legislation Tuesday that would address the affordable housing crisis by expanding the District’s ability to acquire properties, empowering tenants to buy their buildings more affordably and allowing the District to build new housing in the areas it is most needed. 

The Prioritizing Public Land Purchase Amendment Act of 2023 would make it easier for tenants to exercise their right to purchase their building by giving the District authority to purchase the land on which the building sits, meaning tenants would have to come up with significantly less money to purchase just their buildings. 

The bill would also establish a five-day window in which the District has the first right of purchase on nearly all properties not covered by the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. Both provisions would be the first of their kind in the District and possibly the nation. 

“Public ownership of land is the most powerful tool we have to address D.C.’s housing and affordability crisis,” Nadeau said. “The cost of land is the number one cause of high housing costs. We should meet that problem head-on and disrupt the cycle of land speculation that has driven the District’s housing crisis.” 

Under the legislation, the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development would be authorized to purchase land to assist tenants who are looking to exercise their right to purchase their building under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. The District would own the property but ensure tenant control by entering into a long-term ground lease. Often when a building comes for sale, tenants are not in a position to raise or borrow the funds needed for purchase. This bill would give the District a more cost-effective and sustainable tool to support tenant associations and encourage the creation of cooperatives. 

The legislation would also give D.C. government five days to make an offer on most non-TOPA properties that come on the market in the District. Sellers who choose to accept an offer from the District would be exempt from the deed and recordation tax and have an opportunity for a quick, fair market value sale. They would not be obligated to accept an offer from the District.

This creates a much simpler path to District land purchases, which are allowed under existing law, but not easily facilitated. 

Land purchases could also be made for the purpose of bringing food access (grocery stores, for example) to an underserved area, and for parks, schools, and other public facilities. 

“We have a desperate need for more affordable housing units and we’re quickly running out of publicly owned properties that can be developed,” Nadeau said. “I hear a strong desire among residents for the District to step in and acquire land in order to further our shared goals, but right now the tools we have to do so are limited.”   

Once land is made public, the bill would ensure that no affordable housing opportunities are left on the table by requiring the Mayor to exercise any zoning changes necessary to build the maximum number of units allowed on a parcel. 

“Unless we preserve and build new affordable housing in the areas where it is most needed, the District’s growth will come at the expense of pushing out low-income families and people of color,” Nadeau said. 

Nadeau plans to file the bill in the next week after fellow councilmembers, with whom she has been in conversations, have a chance to join as co-introducers. 


About the Bill


Bill Text


The Utility Disconnection Protection Act of 202 would apply protections from May 15 through September 15, and from November 1 through February 29, an expansion of the current temperature-based protections required by law.
"When we create an exemption here, we open the door to an exemption there and another one and another one. This exemption from TOPA is a line that, once crossed, cannot be undone."

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