Nadeau Amendment Would Nix TOPA Exemption
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau, D-Ward 1, introduced an amendment to the District’s FY 24 Budget Support Act on Tuesday that would eliminate an exemption to requirements under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act for building owners and developers who convert downtown office buildings to residential uses and later sell them.
Nadeau called TOPA, which requires owners who sell their buildings to give tenants the first right to purchase it, a “sacrosanct right that has been established in D.C. code and in practice.” She said the exemption is an existential threat to the tenants’ rights provisions of TOPA, an important tool to allow tenants to stay in their housing and become owners of affordable housing.
“When we create an exemption here, we open the door to an exemption there and another one and another one,” Nadeau said. “This exemption from TOPA is a line that, once crossed, cannot be undone.”
The Budget Support Act, which details changes to law that will accompany the budget that passed last month, includes a tax break to developers who convert office buildings to residential uses and a 10-year exemption from the TOPA requirements. Proponents assert that the measures are necessary to accelerate much-needed tax base and activity in the downtown area.
But Nadeau argued that there are other ways to encourage downtown office conversions that should be implemented first, such as changes to parking minimums, zoning reforms, commercial vacancy consolidation, and subsidies, including the tax break that was already part of the BSA. These and other policies for consideration are named in the Office-to-Affordable Housing Task Force Report, released by the Mayor’s planning office in 2019. Meanwhile, other cities, including San Francisco, Berkley, and Boston are working to bolster their tenant purchase options.
TOPA has existed since 1980 and is a bedrock component of tenant rights in the district. In her remarks, Nadeau called it “one of the most impactful means of establishing sustainable and affordable housing opportunities for residents who may not have been able to access them.”
She added: “A moment of weakness presented by the situation downtown is the best opportunity [opponents of TOPA] have had to punch a hole in that wall. Before we've even passed the BSA, we're hearing proposals for how other projects can be exempt from TOPA too, if they pay into a certain fund, provide a certain amount of affordability, etc. I don't think it's being overly dramatic to say that if we pass this now, TOPA as a tenant right is more or less done for.”