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Affordable Housing Plan Gives Tenants, Cities, Non-Profits First Chance To Buy Bay Area Properties

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- As cities search for ways to keep housing within people's financial reach, a new tool is being considered that may give tenants and housing advocates more muscle in buying properties. Some landlords say it removes their rights as owners.

For more than two years, the people who live at an apartment complex on 29th Avenue, in Oakland, have been staging a rent strike against their landlord. They've held marches and protests and on Friday, they won. The property owner agreed to sell the building to the city's Community Land Trust to become permanent affordable housing.

"It's a big win. It's like a light in the darkness, right now," said Grabriella Vivas, an organizer for a housing group called the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

But some communities in the Bay Area are not waiting for landlords to agree. They have begun crafting what are called Opportunities to Purchase Acts, or OPAs, that would require property owners to first give tenants, cities, or housing non-profits the chance to buy the building before it goes on the open market. If their offer is refused, owners could put the property on the market, but the tenant/city/non-profit would still have the right to match the highest offer and buy the property.

"If we have that purchase opportunity for tenants, the struggle will be less," said Vivas. "It will be much easier. It will be easier to secure your housing. It will be a clear path forward."

East Palo Alto is considering one of the most stringent measures. In its OPA, it would include all home property, including single family housing, as long as it is not owner-occupied. The city sees it as a way to meet its affordable housing goals, but property owner and real estate agent Jennifer Liu says the bureaucracy involved with OPA's could add two months to a home transaction, driving buyers away from the area.

"Who can wait for such a long time?" she said. "So, out of frustration the owner who wants to get money soon is likely to sell to the tenant, city or non-profit at a discount."

She says the only affordable housing the OPA's will create are the homes whose value they diminish.

"The city may have good intentions," she said, "but they definitely used the wrong approach."

Cities and housing advocates see OPAs as a way to preserve affordable housing in perpetuity; opponents see them as an attack on private property rights.

The ordinances are now being considered in one form or another in San Jose, Oakland, and Berkeley. An OPA already exists in San Francisco, but it was amended to only involve properties of four units or more.

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