Nadeau Remarks on Her Amendment to Nix TOPA Exemption in Budget Support Act
Prepared remarks, Council Legislative Meeting, June 13, 2023
Thank you, Chairman.
I am introducing Amendment #1 to B25-0202, the “Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Support Act of 2023”
This amendment eliminates the 10-year exemption from the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act for properties granted a tax abatement for housing downtown.
I understand the reasoning behind the exemption. This is an extraordinary time. We need to do “everything we can” to encourage more housing downtown to revive the tax base there and revitalize activity.
But — “everything we can” — includes more than simply a TOPA exemption. There are policies and actions we can pursue to facilitate growth downtown before we start poking holes in what I believe to be a sacrosanct right that has been established in D.C. code and in practice.
For something to be a right, it cannot be selectively applied when it is convenient.
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.
TOPA has existed since 1980 and, despite amendments over the years, has remained resilient as a bedrock component of tenant rights in the district – as well as one of the most impactful means of establishing sustainable and affordable housing opportunities for residents who may not have been able to access them.
For some, TOPA is their white whale -- they've been looking for a way to get past it for ages. A moment of weakness presented by the situation downtown is the best opportunity they've 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. As far as investing in new housing downtown...it will continue to happen. And there is more we can do to facilitate that.
We can drive housing production with changes to parking minimums, zoning reform, commercial vacancy consolidation, and subsidies, to name a few. Policies and actions named in the Office-to-Affordable Housing Task Force Report, funded by CM Robert White.
It’s important to note that, as we are considering this first breach in the TOPA dam, other jurisdictions are working to bolster their tenant purchase options. San Francisco, Berkley, and the city of Boston, for example.
Instead of giving freer rein to developers focused on market only, these jurisdictions are focusing on the idea of guaranteeing people tools that say: “stay, contribute and be a part of this place,” rather than creating zones of housing where people will always be priced out and not get a “fair shot” at ownership.
Where is the path to the middle class without it?
Allowing the erosion of something we've established as a right isn't easily undone. Exempting certain housing from TOPA tears a hole in the fabric of tenant rights that can only be widened.
I hope that you will join me in pressing pause on this dangerous precedent and protecting what we have collectively agreed upon as an important tenant protection and right.
With that, I move the amendment.