City Grants Nonprofits First Priority in Building Sales

Housing nonprofits will stand a better chance of permanently protecting rent-controlled buildings from the speculative market.

San Francisco’s ability to preserve its affordable housing stock just strengthened immensely.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously co-sponsored and approved long-awaited legislation that requires building owners to first hear an offer from housing nonprofits. Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer calls the bill, known as Community Opportunity to Purchase Act, a “win-win” for landlords who may still sell for market-rate and tenants who can stay in their homes.

“COPA will provide affordable housing nonprofits with a critical tool to stop the bleeding,” said Fewer, who introduced the legislation. “The market will not solve this problem.”

San Francisco has a similar-minded idea in the Small Sites Program, which gives loans to nonprofits to preserve buildings for existing tenants. More than 200 units in 28 buildings have been removed from the private market between 2014 and January 2019. But nonprofits like the Mission Economic Development Agency have had trouble competing with private buyers who are ready to pay cash, let alone be aware of all the buildings for sale.

COPA would change that. The Mayor’s Office of Housing would determine qualified affordable housing nonprofits that sellers of a residential building with at least three units would be required to notify. They may still reject the nonprofit’s offer but only after given the chance to match a private buyer’s offer.

At a rally before the Board of Supervisors meeting, community advocates cheered the improved ability to preserve affordable housing in San Francisco.

“The west side of the city, including the Richmond District, has suffered from a high rate of evictions due to speculation,” said Joy Lee, of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, in a statement. “COPA is a key strategy to preserve affordable housing for low-to-moderate-income people in San Francisco and to ensure community stability.”

At the Budget and Finance Sub-Committee meeting last week, several public commenters with “COPA now!” stickers called for a funding stream for the affordable housing nonprofits to purchase such buildings. Supervisors set aside $40 million of windfall tax funds for small site acquisitions earlier this year but most funding comes from developer fees from what’s been called an outdated method.

Fewer acknowledged the demand on Tuesday, adding that she would propose setting aside future, expected windfall funds for the same purpose.

“San Francisco once again stands out as a leader in the affordable housing field with this creative policy to preserve at-risk rental apartments and make them permanently affordable,” said Fernando Marti, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations. “COPA right-to-purchase will be a powerful tool to help address the affordability crisis.”

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