Legislation Passes to Give First Right of Purchase to Nonprofits

By Jarred Quarles

“When tenant rights are under attack, what do we do? STAND UP AND FIGHT BACK!”

This was the heartfelt call and response headed by South of Market Community Action Network activist Abigail. The moving chant was perfectly positioned at the end of the press conference for the Community Opportunity to Purchase (COPA) legislation on April 16, 2019. This press conference was based on the fight for basic human housing rights which continues to be under attack here, but San Franciscans can be ensured that beyond nonprofits, we have the Board of Supervisors vigorously assisting in the fight. Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer from District 1 is the mastermind behind the creation of the COPA legislation and, being a landlord herself, she knows how important it is to ensure that low-income and poor families maintain housing security.

During the press conference, we learned that all 11 members of the Board of Supervisors support COPA. So, what does the legislation do? COPA is an innovative policy designed to prevent displacement and stabilize diverse communities in San Francisco by granting affordable housing nonprofits the first right to purchase multi-family apartment buildings. Put simply, COPA grants nonprofits focused on housing, the ability to bid first on multi-family buildings on the market from landlords seeking to sale.

“We can not afford to take two steps forward and one step back, the market will not solve this problem,” Fewer said. “The city has to step in and protect our existing affordable housing to prevent displacement.” The legislation also ensures that when nonprofits buy the buildings, tenants will feel secure knowing the buildings will remain or become permanently affordable housing in the city. Landlords, like tenants, are guaranteed incentives from COPA, which include being able to sell their property at market rate, while stopping the displacement of families and stabilizing San Francisco’s diverse communities.

           According to the latest Housing Balance Report from the City’s Planning Department, less than 18% of net new units built in San Francisco in the past 10 years have been affordable; that is, within financial reach of people making up to 120% area median income, or $142,080 annually for a family of four. Last year, the federal Housing and Urban Development Department defined “low income” in the city as $117,400.

Last year’s net result still falls short of Proposition K’s recommendation from 2014 that 33% of units built be affordable.

This has been the trend to make sure that the low-income and poor residents of San Francisco be pushed outside of the city limits, which goes against the idea of this being the Golden City. “We aspire to create the beloved community, but we can’t do that if we’re punishing people for being low-income or poor,” said Mayor London Breed at the press conference for Financial Justice Project earlier. “The only way to guarantee that housing becomes and remains affordable with the idea of the beloved community for San Francisco residents is by nonprofits and city officials working together to combat the issue.”

“Acquisition of properties across the City is tried-and-true approach to keeping in place San Franciscans vulnerable to no-fault evictions,” said Karoleen Feng, director of community real estate for the Mission Economic Development Agency. COPA is a major step in the right direction and should become the standard for other cities in California to follow.

           The fight doesn’t stop here — remember to continue your support of the most vulnerable citizens here in San Francisco.