The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) is responsible for keeping a lot of DC residents in their home. At the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development Budget hearing, Tamira Ramirez a bilingual tenant organizer at the Latino Economic Development Corporation testified urging the council to preserve TOPA.
Thank you for convening this hearing. I’m here to testify in support of full funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund.
My name is Tamira Ramirez and I am a tenant organizer at LEDC. I work with tenant purchase buildings. I have been a DC renter for 9 years. I live in Mt Pleasant, in a building that was preserved through a TOPA. I pay $1100 for a 1br apartment. And even though it’s considered affordable housing, I struggle with rent, bills, and student loans. If I did not live in St Dennis Apartments, I would not be living in DC, working and helping preserve affordable housing. The lack of affordable housing that DC has also affects me even though I have a very good education and a good job.
I work at the Latino Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization that equips Latinos and other D.C.-area residents with the skills and financial tools to create a better future for their families and communities. LEDC receives grant funds from DHCD to provide tenant organizing and affordable housing preservation services, small business development services, micro-lending services, and housing counseling. I work with tenants who have received an offer of sale and are trying to purchase their buildings.
There is a growing number of buildings going up for sale in DC. Last fiscal year, 119 buildings went up for sale. This fiscal year, the numbers are picking up. Over the past few months, 45 building have been put up for sale. LEDC is working with 11 of those. 45 buildings may not sound like a significant number but 1400 families does. They missed the opportunity to become homeowner because there is no funding.
Without a fully funded Trust Fund, TOPA is not an option for low and moderate income tenants. In most cases, when tenants receive an offer of sale nothing happens, some even stay with poor housing conditions. In other cases when a third party purchases the building, the building gets taken out of rent control, or rents get bumped up, or developers want to convert to condominiums and tenants can’t afford them so they get displaced . The best case scenario is that things remain the same.
Maybe the Trust Fund is being cut because it might look like there isn’t enough demand for the funds. However, there is demand for the funds. We work with tenant associations who are interested in applying for funding to purchase their building or partner with a non-profit and preserve their building as affordable housing. But there isn’t enough money in the Fund. Developers don’t want to apply for such limited pot of money. Also, low and moderate income tenants don’t fit the underwriting guidelines—the guidelines say that only 49% of the total development can come from the HPTF. The logic behind limiting the fund is that everybody can get some of that fund but in realty no-one gets anything because there are not other available resources to complete the development cost. Smaller rent control buildings have an even more difficult time during TOPA. There are very few developers that want to partner with a 5+ unit building. Small buildings should get 100% funding.
Tenants are ready to take on the responsibility that comes with purchasing their building. DC residents are tired of poor conditions, being displaced, or having their homes threaten. We, DC residents, want to stay in our neighborhood where we live and work and grow as a community. Many of us are here to tell our own stories with the same message. We need affordable housing and funding the Fund is needed to get there.
- Fully fund the HPTF and also the Local Rent Supplement Program because they are both so vital to DC renters.
- If current trends continue there will be almost no local money for production and preservation in DC at a time when we’re seeing an increase in loss of affordable housing. We are seeing very limited funds over the next 5 years. Stop the cuts to the Fund.
- Review and change underwriting guidelines to ensure that they work for smaller buildings.
- Create a preservation plan for affordable housing in the whole city. Right now, DC looks like an apartment building filled with Housing Code violation where the landlord only does patch up work knowing that the issue will not be solved unless a plan to tackle the issue down is made and performed and seen through.
- Finally, trust DC residents with the responsibility of owning our homes, just like we trust you with your responsibilities of ensuring that we have resources available to build a decent life.