Richmond council quits quest for TOPA ordinance

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Richmond City Hall

Following loud opposition by property owners, Richmond City Council voted Tuesday to halt its pursuit of a Tenants Opportunity to Purchase (TOPA) ordinance.

Such an ordinance, in short, requires an owner of tenant-occupied housing to provide their tenant or tenants the first opportunity to purchase the unit or property before it is demolished or sold on the open market.

In September, Richmond City Council requested that staff develop a TOPA ordinance for the city. The action led to protests at subsequent City Council meetings and the launching of a Change.org petition by the Association for United Richmond Housing Providers (AURHP) that received nearly 1,000 signatures.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Richmond Councilmember Jael Myrick apologized for the manner in which he introduced the proposal. In asking city staff to develop an ordinance, Myrick submitted an example of a TOPA ordinance authored by the East Bay Community Law Center, where he is employed as program director for the Clean Slate Practice. That 14-page proposal was highly criticized by AURHP as giving far too much power to the city over private property transactions.

Myrick apologized to property owners for introducing the example, saying it was a “template” that was never intended to be the final ordinance.

“That was a mistake…I understand why people are feeling the anger and frustration,” Myrick said, adding his intention was to explore a version catered to Richmond that could serve as a tool to prevent displacement of longtime renters. 

The council unanimously halted its pursuit of the TOPA ordinance, with Councilmember Melvin Willis absent. Studying a TOPA proposal was set to cost the city as much as $22,200.

“The council has failed to understand how much pressure their local housing providers are under,” according to a statement by AURHP, which added, “The community needs to be heard before policies are proposed.”

Over 30 years ago, Washington D.C., enacted TOPA with the aim of protecting renters. Following complaints about the program’s effectiveness in regard to single-family homes, including cases where tenants would demand large sums of money to release their TOPA rights, the D.C. law was revised last year to exclude single-family dwellings, except those occupied by elderly or disabled tenants.

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