Urban Housing Policy And Those Stupid Natural History Facts: The DOPA And TOPA Edition

Attempts to lower urban housing costs seem to come in two flavors:


2. Rent control.

However, D.C. has two pretty good alternatives, known as DOPA:

Here’s the thing–D.C. has a very good legal structure to preserve affordable housing, the District Opportunity to Purchase Act (‘DOPA’; boldface mine):

In February 2008, Marion Barry, then the chairman of the D.C. Council Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs, introduced a bill to help preserve affordable housing in the District. If a property owner was going to sell an apartment building that was home to low-income residents and put affordable housing at risk, the legislation stipulated, the District would have the chance to step in and buy it in order to keep those apartments affordable.

“If we are serious about preserving our affordable housing stock we must take an active and aggressive role in doing so,” Barry said in introducing the measure. The bill, known as the District Opportunity to Purchase Act, or DOPA, passed the Council unanimously six months later and became law that Christmas Eve.

Unfortunately, D.C. never uses this law. On the other hand, D.C. does have the TOPA Act, which can do some good (boldface mine):

TOPA gives tenants’ associations the right to refuse contracted sales of their buildings and to purchase them instead for the contracted sale prices….

When residential property is sold in D.C. landlords are required to give tenants a TOPA Notice, or Offer of Sale, which informs them that they may refuse the sale and purchase the property instead for the contracted sale price.

Tenants must then incorporate as a tenants’ association, if one does not already exist, and submit a letter of interest within 45 days of receiving the offer of sale. The tenants association can then request information from the landlord including floor plans, itemized operating expenses, utility rates, capital expenditures for the previous 2 years, a recent rent roll, and a list of vacant apartments.

The tenants’ association then has a 120 day period to exercise their right of first refusal and negotiate to purchase the property. If the tenants’ association signs a contract with a deposit they have an additional 120 days to secure financing. After the purchase is complete the tenants’ association can convert to condominium or co-operative or remain rental.

This policy isn’t be good as DOPA, since the poor and lower-income people will be highly unlikely to pull this off. But it does help middle-class people retain affordable housing in cities (I mena middle-class in the true sense of the phrase, not those who are upper-middle or gentry class). Here’s another advantage:

…TOPA gives tenants market power during gentrification. Lots of people benefit from gentrification, but tenants aren’t usually among them. Cities get increased tax revenue. Landlords sell aging building for big profits. Developers turn disinvested buildings into luxury housing with price tags to match. Tenants, by contrast, are usually forced out of their homes. TOPA changes that by giving tenants market power. They can buy their units and build equity, take buyouts and use them to pay down debt or build up savings, or stay rental and negotiate with their development partner for building improvements. For once, tenants don’t get the short end of the stick.

Cities should adopt these programs (and D.C. should fucking implement DOPA). It would be far more productive than the NIMBY versus YIMBY versus rent control battles that are constantly fought.

Posted in DC, Housing | Leave a comment

Links 7/24/16

Links for you. Science:

Mass Incarceration Is Making Infectious Diseases Worse
Darkness Falls on the Dinosaurs
How Sexual Harassment Halts Science
How a Guy From A Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology: Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong
Thousands of studies used the wrong cells, and journals are doing nothing (wrote about this here two years ago)


I’m With The Banned: What my evening with Milo told me about Twitter’s biggest troll, the death of reason, and the crucible of A-list con-men that is the Republican National Convention
Here’s An Idea: Change The Federal Definition Of Student Achievement
The Forgotten State
For 90 years, lightbulbs were designed to burn out. Now that’s coming to LED bulbs.
The Republican’s Glass-Steagall Is Not Elizabeth Warren’s Glass Steagall
Republican Party Platform Rejects D.C. Statehood, Budget Autonomy: It also criticizes the District’s handling of violent crime
A Key Reason America is No Longer Great: The privatization of state and (especially) local governments, in both the services they provide and in the way these governments (especially the local ones) are funded.
Fla. police shoot black man with his hands up as he tries to help autistic patient
Mystery Group of Young People Protests for Metro Privatization
Defend Against Statistical Nonsense
A Lot of People Are Looking for Gay Sex During the RNC
Something entirely disturbing happened last night on my commute to rehearsal
The Psychology of Why Americans Are Afraid of Historically Low Crime Levels
Ideología: Latinos & Republicans Disagree on More than Immigration Reform
This is for my folks who are scared right now.
New Leak: Top DNC Official Wanted to Use Bernie Sanders’s Religious Beliefs Against Him

Posted in Lotsa Links | 1 Comment

Just When I Thought The Republican Platform Was Boring

Some previous Republican Party platforms have been pretty nutty, but 2016’s, while containing the same warmed-over failed policies and slogans, is pretty dull (pdf).

Fortunately, this section, “Protection Against an Electromagnetic Pulse”, brings the crazy:

A single nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude over this country would collapse our electrical grid and other critical infrastructures and endanger the lives of millions. With North Korea in possession of nuclear missiles and Iran close to having them, an EMP is no longer a theoretical concern — it is a real threat. Moreover, China and Russia include sabotage as part of their warfare planning. Nonetheless, hundreds of electrical utilities in the United States have not acted to protect themselves from EMP, and they cannot be expected to do so voluntarily since homeland security is a government responsibility. The President, the Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the States, the utilities, and the private sector should work together on an urgent basis to enact Republican legislation, pending in both chambers protect the national grid and encourage states to take the initiative to protect their own grids expeditiously.

It’s clearly tacked on to the end. I’m guessing there are some campaign contributors who view this as another source of government contracts, while gulling the rubes.

Besides, I thought we’re all supposed to be afraid of ‘crime’?

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Links 7/23/16

Links for you. Science:

FDA clears first test to detect specific genetic markers for certain antibiotic-resistant bacteria directly from clinical specimens
A shock to the system
Zika Data From the Lab, and Right to the Web
When Subpoenas Threaten Climate Science
This new research rewrites the history of HIV in America


Turkey purges universities after failed coup: Political turmoil spreads to education sector
Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All
Turkey is purging 1,577 university deans and 15,200 education workers
From political power brokers to the entire island of Manhattan, a varied cast of taunting insiders has inadvertently driven Donald Trump’s lifelong revenge march toward the White House. This is what it’s like to be one of them.
Donald Trump has no idea how to make America safe again
This Vintage 1927 Steampunk Bowling Alley Looks Amazing
Orange pointy chicken pokes hamster dog
In Boston, sometimes it’s a question of good and lucky
As the GOP Convention Begins, Ohio Is Purging Tens of Thousands of Democratic Voters: Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to be purged from the voter rolls in the state’s largest counties
COBOL and Legacy Code as a Systemic Risk
Photographs of everyday life in 1950s New York City discovered in an attic 45 years later
Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless
The Libertarians’ Secret Weapon: The third-party candidacy of Gary Johnson might make the most unpredictable election in modern times even weirder
Uber Is Gradually Replacing Public Services: A potential deal to substitute Ubers for ambulances in Washington, D.C. is just one example of a tech company looking to step in for overstretched public services
All Hail Acting President Mike Pence!
A Note On a Jackass Getting Booted From Twitter

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More Metro Failure

Good thing it will be 100˚F on Monday:

When will chilled air flow in Metro’s Dupont Circle and Farragut North stations? Not any time soon, it seems.

That’s because the transit agency has again pushed back repairs of the “chillers” that help cool those Red Line stations.

“Metro’s contractor has completed pressure tests of the pipes under Connecticut Ave NW (off Metro property) that provide chilled air service to Dupont Circle and Farragut North stations,” Metro said in a statement last Friday. “The test results are currently being evaluated to determine next steps. Unfortunately, chilled air service has not yet been restored.”

The chillers stopped working last summer due to leaks in the 40-year-old pipe that feeds water into the system, officials said. Metro originally estimated it would repair those leaks by July 1, then again by July 16.

Actually, it has been a year of rolling delays. I’ve brought a thermometer to the platform a few times, and when it’s ~80˚F outside (at ~8:30 am), it’s typically 95˚F on the platform. I can’t even imagine how hot it will be on Sunday and Monday when the heat wave is supposed to crest at 100˚F. The Dupont Circle and Farragut North (also affected) platforms are already experiencing a ‘heat emergency.’

To a considerable extent, they’ve pretty much admitted defeat:



As for when those chillers might actually come online, Metro did not set a firm date.

Then Metro wonders why ridership is down. A mystery, it is…

As I’ve mentioned before, the D.C. Metro is often the first mass transit system that many young politically-interested people have used–when it doesn’t work, it not only affects D.C., but, down the road, it affects other regions too.

Posted in DC, Transportation | Leave a comment

Links 7/22/16

Links for you. Science:

Old Teeth Tell New Stories About People Who Didn’t Get Enough Sun
Zika case in Florida could have come from local mosquito, a first in continental US
CDC Director: ‘This Is No Way to Fight an Epidemic’
The microbiome bubble seems to be inflating wildly
Too Many Deer on the Road? Let Cougars Return, Study Says


Life and loss on Methadone Mile (must-read; also see the photographic essay)
The Machine of Morbius (excellent)
What the Trident Debate taught us about government spending: Nobody knows how much Trident will cost in monetary terms. Ever wondered why? (important for non-UK-ians as well)
Study shows increased police use of force on black men is not justified by greater crime
In race for register of deeds, there are some who actually want to do the job
Violence, Blood and Betrayal inside the Trump Potemkin Village
It’s Like Uber But for the Dispossessed
What Ailes The Republican Party?
How Melania Trump’s Speech Veered Off Course and Sparked an Uproar
Twitter Just Permanently Suspended Conservative Writer Milo Yiannopoulos
An Indiana town recovering from 190 HIV cases
When Yahoo Ruled the Valley: Stories of the Original ‘Surfers’
Congressional Democrats Introduce Transformative Automatic Voter Registration Bill
Berta Cáceres and the California Desert
Is “Lesser Of Two Evils” Going To Be Good Enough In November? What Does The Democratic Party Claim To Be Offering?
Actually, Democrats Still Love Each Other XOXO
Michael Grunwald on governance, the GOP and Donald Trump

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Unionized Teachers Are Better Teachers

The author of this paper (pdf) observes (boldface mine):

By demanding higher salaries for teachers, unions give school districts a strong incentive to dismiss ineffective teachers before they get tenure. Highly unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers because it costs more to keep them. Using three different kinds of survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics, I confirmed that unionized districts dismiss more low-quality teachers than those with weak unions or no unions. Unionized districts also retain more high-quality teachers relative to district with weak unionism. No matter how and when I measured unionism I found that unions lowered teacher attrition. This is important because many studies have found that higher quality teachers have a greater chance of leaving the profession. Since unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers while keeping more good teachers, we should expect to observe higher teacher quality in highly unionized districts than less unionized districts – and this is exactly what I found. Highly unionized districts have more qualified teachers compared to districts with weak unionism.

Oddly enough, crappy wages–which happen to coincidence with the loss of union power–lower teacher quality:

Indiana, Idaho, Tennessee and Wisconsin all changed their laws in 2010-2011, dramatically restricting the collective bargaining power of public school teachers. After that, I was able to compare what happened in states where teachers’ bargaining rights were limited to states where there was no change. If you believe the argument that teachers unions protect bad teachers, we should have seen teacher quality rise in those states after the laws changed. Instead I found that the opposite happened. The new laws restricting bargaining rights in those four states reduced teacher salaries by about 9%. That’s a huge number. A 9% drop in teachers salaries is unheard of. Lower salaries mean that districts have less incentive to sort out better teachers, lowering the dismissal rate of underperforming teachers, which is what you saw happen in the those four states. Lower salaries also encouraged high-quality teachers to leave the teaching sector, which contributed to a decrease of teacher quality.

Most importantly, it’s good for the students:

Since there’s currently no data on student performance by school district levels with nationally representative samples, I use high school dropout rates as a measure of student achievement. My study found that unions reduce the dropout rates of districts. This is where my study differs from some earlier ones that found that unionism either had no impact or had a negative effect on the dropout rate. I define unionism more broadly than those earlier studies. It’s not just collective bargaining that matters, it’s the union density of teachers in a district that’s important. Union density measures the strength of the union, because even when teachers can’t engage in collective bargaining they can use their collective *voice* to influence the educational system. What I found was that union density significantly decreased the high school dropout rate, even in districts without collective bargaining agreements.

But teachers unions are the greatest evil known to mankind. Or something.

Also worth noting this study came out months ago. Oddly enough, it didn’t make the news…

Posted in Education, Uncategorized | 1 Comment