Tenant Opportunity to Purchase (TOPA) policies provide tenants living in multifamily buildings with advance notice that the landlord is planning to sell their building and an opportunity for them to collectively purchase the building. It turns potential eviction and displacement into an opportunity for tenants to become homeowners, helping to close racial homeownership and wealth gaps. TOPA is an emerging anti-displacement tool that can be used to preserve affordable rental housing stock, keep housing with community hands, and stabilize Black and Brown communities that have long faced displacement, disinvestment, and exclusion. These policies generally require landlords to provide an “intent to sell” notice to their tenants, along with a timeframe for the tenants to form a tenant association and express interest in purchasing the units, and an additional timeframe for the tenants to secure financing. By providing tenants with the right to negotiate and collectively bargain to purchase their buildings, TOPA policies level the playing field in highly speculative markets. Keys to successful TOPA programs include: 1) extending the right of first purchase or right of first refusal to tenants so they have an opportunity to match an offer, and 2) requiring purchasers to preserve units as permanently affordable.
As an anti-displacement tool, TOPA policies and programs can stabilize households facing displacement pressures and provide an opportunity for long-time residents to stay in their neighborhoods and purchase their homes. In Washington, DC — home to the nation's oldest and most comprehensive TOPA program — tenants organized to preserve close to 1,400 units between 2015 and 2018 alone. This has significantly contributed to Washington, DC’s impressive total of 4,400 units of limited equity cooperative housing units across 99 cooperative buildings. TOPA can also be a cost-effective method for cities to preserve their affordable housing stock since preserving existing housing costs less than building new affordable homes.
Cities and states can also consider developing Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA) policies as an alternative or to complement a TOPA policy. COPA allows a qualified nonprofit to make a first offer to purchase a building with low-income tenants if the property owner decides to sell. COPA should be carefully crafted with tenants and nonprofit partners such as community land trusts, limited equity housing cooperatives, and other affordable housing providers. While only a few cities and states have developed policies that allow for the purchase of unsubsidized housing, a number of cities and states have provisions that allow for the purchase of subsidized affordable housing in order to preserve affordability.
In addition to PolicyLink tools and resources, see the Council of Community Housing Organizations, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) for more resources related to tenant/community opportunity to purchase policies.