Tenant Opportunity to Purchase
4 the People
What is Tenant Opportunity to Purchase (TOP)?
Tenant Opportunity to Purchase (TOP) law would provide long-term protection of already existing affordable housing by allowing tenant groups the first opportunity to negotiate and bid on rental properties when they come up for sale. Tenants can form a limited equity housing cooperative (LEHC) to purchase the community or transfer their purchase rights to a non-profit, land trust or government agency. This measure takes the property out of the speculative market, preserving it, stabilizing housing costs and safeguarding it from future redevelopment. Cities around the country like San Francisco, Berkley, Oakland, Seattle, Burien, Minneapolis, Baltimore are following the lead Washington DC's TOPA act in exploring and adopting their own versions of Tenant Opportunity to Purchase.
TOPO For Olympia
Olympia Washington is ready for Tenant Opportunity to Purchase
- Adopt a robust tenant opportuntiy ordiance
The Olympia community is in need of long-term, affordable housing stability and is ripe for a robust TOPO.
The Olympia business community values cooperatives: city with the greatest per capita of worker cooperative in the US
The Thurston Housing Land Trust is a new non-profit expanding in area seeking to produce more affordable housing using the strong Land Trust/ Co-op housing partnership model
Northwest Cooperative Development Center based in Olympia has a long track record of providing technical assistance to residents wanting to form housing co-ops.
Broad support for TOPO exists among stakeholder agencies and city residents
2. Adopt a Manufactured Housing zoning protection
Manufactured housing communities make for perfect housing cooperatives and are currently being developed all over the country by groups like Northwest Cooperative Development Center (Olympia, WA) and ROC USA (New Hampshire)
Manufactured Housing Communities provide affordable housing where residents can own their homes and their cooperative can own and manage the land and infrastructure
Manufactured Housing Communities are often the target of equity investment firms that purchase parks above market values speculating returns based future rent increases or park tear down for new development.
A zoning protection would protect the 8 communities in Olympia from being repurposed offering homeowners security in their home and strengthening opportunities for these communities to convert to cooperatives.
Communities like Tumwater, Snohomish Co., and Kenmore have all adopted similar zoning protections.
3. Provide funding streams for TOPO technical assistance and aquisition seed money
Recent studies of the D.C. TOPA rule have concluded that increased technical assistance dollars would strengthen preservation efforts
Resident groups are being priced out the multi-billion dollar equity investment industry. The residents at Friendly Village Seniors community in Olympia, a 245 home MHC, formed a co-op to buy their community but were heavily outbid by the Carlyle Group. Resident groups need supplemental funds in addition to loans in order to compete.
Hidden Village Homeowners Cooperative, Olympia
Resident owned, resident controlled
In 2008, the owner of College Street Mobile Home Park offered to sell his property to the residents. They formed an HOA, applied for funding, and met his price. Hidden Village was the result, a low-income non-profit co-op that is self-managed and self-governed by resident members. Lot rent has not been raised since 2010, despite rapidly increasing rents everywhere else in our region. We can afford this because we don’t have investors, landlords, or property managers cutting into our limited finances. As Crystal Adkins wrote in a recent issue of Mobile Home Living, “Tenant-owned parks are superior in many ways and hopefully will become more common as financial institutions realize the many benefits that come from tenant-owned parks.”
"Between the rising cost of living and job issues due to the pandemic, those at the lower income levels, including manufactured home owners, are easily exploited for others’ profit. Living in a co-op allows us some control and dignity over our lives."
-Mary Testa Smith, cooperative board member
THE COALITION LETTER
The City of Olympia has an emergent need to develop and preserve more long-term affordable housing. Housing costs have surpassed household wage increases in Thurston County over the past 10 years and over 30% of Thurston residents are cost-burdened paying more than a third of their income in rent. Population growth in Olympia is adding pressure to the housing market and increased market-rate, for-profit development will not solve the housing crisis. Affordable housing is being bought and sold on the speculative market by large investment firms, causing rental costs to rise as property values surge. Tenants are demanding stronger protections against eviction and greater access to affordable rental units as the city gentrifies. City targeted efforts to encourage building fall short of long term affordability solutions as new market-rate apartments inflate surrounding property values and squeeze out opportunities to build and preserve permanent affordable housing. It is time for the City of Olympia to implement a robust tenant opportunity to purchase ordinance (TOPO) to offer cooperatives, land trusts, nonprofits, and government agencies a fair chance to purchase, develop, rebuild and preserve affordable housing for the indefinite future.
A strong TOPO would provide long-term protection of already existing affordable housing by allowing tenant groups the first opportunity to negotiate and bid on their own housing when they come up for sale. A strong TOPO for Olympia would grant tenants and eligible organizations adequate notice of sale and allow up to 60 days to respond with an offer. Eligible groups would then have 90 to 120 days to engage with owners in negotiations and due diligence to access financing and purchase rental properties for the public good. Owners would be required to sell to a qualified organization if it either matches an already accepted third party offer or matches the original asking price by means of a right of first refusal clause. Technical assistance funds and acquisition funds should be sourced by both the city and state to support tenant groups and eligible organizations throughout the bidding and purchase process.
TOPO law has great potential to support increased development of limited-equity housing cooperatives, community land trusts, and affordable homeowners associations. The Washington DC TOPA statute has been in place since 1979 and has supported the development of over 100 multifamily housing cooperatives. San Francisco passed its version entitled COPA, and Berkeley and Oakland are pursuing strong models driven by tenant organizing. Seattle recently strengthened its notice of sale ordinance and Burien passed a tenant notice of sale rule in combination with just cause for eviction and other tenant protections. States across New England have decades-old tenant opportunity to purchase laws offering preservation rights to manufactured housing cooperatives where, in New Hampshire, ⅓ of all mobile home parks are now resident-owned co-ops. Resident control allows for democratic decision making, owner investment in community improvements, and long term affordability. An Olympia TOPO would bolster community-owned housing offering working-class Olympians secure and enriched housing options. TOPO can be applied to all rental types, including single-family, duplexes, and quad-plexes, multi-family, and manufactured housing communities.
Land-leased Manufactured housing communities are prime candidates for TOPO as tenants own their homes but lease their home lots from private owners. These communities are depleting with pressures of equity investment firms buying them for top dollar for their high returns raked in by rent increases and future plans for redevelopment. A TOPO ordinance in Olympia should include developing a Manufactured Housing Zone to protect communities from being redeveloped. The eight manufactured housing communities in Olympia, representing 680 households, should be preserved as affordable housing where residents have a purchasing opportunity to preserve just like traditional multi-family developments. These communities offer affordable homeownership opportunities and are commonly structured as senior living communities.
TOPO has the potential to empower residents and communities with the chance to own their homes, maintain affordability, and fairly compete with the elite investment groups buying up our city. It fends off threats of out pricing the poor and working-class through gentrification planning while preserving and improving valuable housing that already exists. TOPO is a long-term solution to affordable housing that works up the stream of homelessness and supports working-class prosperity. We urge the Olympia City Council to make TOPO a top legislative priority for our community.