DOPA And The Classic D.C. Governance Problem

And by D.C. I mean the local government, not Wor-Shing-Tun. D.C. has the habit of passing excellent laws, and then neither funding nor enforcing them–that would be hard, and make people uncomfortable! Case in point, DOPA (boldface mine):

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday that she is implementing a decade-old law that allows the city to buy residential buildings that are put up for sale in order to ensure that they remain affordable for tenants.

The District Opportunity to Purchase Act was approved by the D.C. Council in late 2008, but regulations were never written to actually implement it. Much like the existing Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), DOPA was meant as a last resort to prevent residential buildings from being sold and converted into pricier apartments or condos. TOPA allows tenants the first shot at buying their building when it hits the market, and DOPA gives the city itself a chance to purchase if the tenants cannot.

An affordable housing taskforce created by Bowser recommended in late 2016 that the city finally implement the law, calling it an important tool in helping prevent the displacement of low-income tenants when their residential buildings are put on the market. In the years since DOPA became law, dozens of buildings could have qualified for DOPA — from 2013 to 2016, city records indicate that there were 121 notices filed by building owners looking to sell, with the largest number in Wards 1 and 4

Tenants will still retain their opportunity to buy their building first under TOPA; if they choose not to or fail to do so, D.C. can step in and invoke DOPA. The rules also allow the city to assign their purchasing rights to a pre-qualified developer, which will then be required to preserve a certain number of the units as affordable housing. Whether D.C. or a developer completes the purchase, the rules say that the rent for tenants in affordable units cannot increase and subsequent annual increases will be limited. When the units turn over, they will become income-restricted with affordable rents.

As some asshole with a blog noted a couple of years ago, DOPA was never used, even though it could be really powerful. This is a good step, and in a small way, rectifies the perennial D.C. problem of lousy implementation.

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