On Tuesday night, the East Palo Alto City Council was scheduled to hold a public hearing on a new housing ordinance that would give tenants, affordable housing nonprofits and the city the right of first offer to purchase residential properties before they go on the market.
Known as the Opportunity to Purchase Act (OPA), the policy is intended to preserve long-term affordable housing in the city by preventing the displacement of tenants. East Palo Alto has long been confronted with the challenges of soaring housing costs as well as fears of displacement of longtime, lower-income residents.
If adopted, qualified nonprofits, which in this case refers to a tax-exempt organization committed to providing affordable housing, would be given the opportunity to make the first bid to purchase a residential property — including a multifamily housing unit, apartment complex or certain single-family homes — up for sale. Tenants of a rental property also would have the first right to buy the home.
Owner-occupied properties with three or fewer units would be exempt from the ordinance. The proposed ordinance and Frequently Asked Questions section can be found on the city's website.
On Tuesday night, city staff was set to present the council with a version of the ordinance that was amended following public feedback from a community meeting held Dec. 1 and office hours on Dec. 3 and 6. The council took public comments but no immediate action was taken on the proposal. There will be a second reading of the ordinance during the next council meeting on Dec. 21.
The city has proposed the ordinance as one way to fulfill its affordable housing goals outlined in its Affordable Housing Strategy adopted in October 2018. With a grant from the Partnership for the Bay's Future, a policy-oriented group focused on affordable housing, the city has worked to develop a Tenant or Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA/COPA) since mid-2019, and first proposed the policy to the council on Oct. 5.
The city amended the proposed ordinance after some homeowners expressed concerns that its goals of helping longtime, low-income tenants and securing more affordable housing only work in theory.
A group of anonymous homeowners put up a website titled "NO to EPA OPA," which argues that the policy will discourage developers from coming into East Palo Alto, among other issues.
If approved, East Palo Alto would join San Francisco and Washington, D.C, which have their own versions of an OPA law.
In 2019, San Francisco adopted a Community Opportunity to Purchase Act, giving nonprofits first rights to purchase multifamily residential buildings. Washington, D.C. also adopted a program in 1980, which has gone through several iterations, including one in 2018 that exempted single-family homes after an investigation found that renters were using a loophole in the law to hold up home sales and charge landlords exorbitant prices.
San Jose also is currently exploring its own version of a COPA policy.