Council greenlights tenant purchase proposal, Veolia deals
on September 20, 2019
Richmond landlords may be forced to give tenants the first shot at buying their homes before putting them on the market under a proposed rule whose drafting the City Council kicked off on Tuesday.
The “Tenant Opportunity to Purchase” (TOPA) ordinance would aim to offset the displacement of low-income residents who can’t match rising housing prices by making landlords offer them the first opportunity to buy their buildings before they are sold or demolished.
Washington, DC’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act is considered the blueprint for such legislation, and council members Melvin Willis, Demnlus Johnson III and Jael Myrick came up with the idea of creating a similar policy for Richmond.
“Although it was started in Washington, DC, we want to make sure [the ordinance] fits Richmond,” Johnson said.
“[It’s about] keeping it fair for people who don’t have the robust pockets the market tends to have,” Willis said.
The council voted 7-1 to start drafting the legislation, with only Mayor Butt voting no.
“It will discourage those who want to develop more housing in Richmond. I can set up a nightmare scenario where a group of tenants can delay the sale of a building for nearly a year and just abandon the effort,” Butt said.
Local landlord Ilona Clark spoke against adopting a version of TOPA in Richmond. “Under Richmond’s strict rent control, [the policy] smacks of eminent domain but not for the greater good,” she said. “This ordinance would have the effect of taking from one private citizen only to give to another.”
The price landlords offer tenants for their buildings will likely be set through an appraisal process, Councilman Myrick told Richmond Confidential by phone. Next steps in drafting the ordinance will include tailoring the vision behind TOPA to Richmond – such as finding ways to help tenants access capital.
“I want to get an ordinance passed by the end of the year,” Myrick said.
The council also approved standing contracts for Veolia Water to manage engineering design services with eight companies. Director of the Waste Water Program Yader Bermudez came to the meeting to account for future spending related to the contract.
Councilmember Eduardo Martinez questioned him about the allocation of $1.5 million rolled over from the 2018-2019 budget. Bermudez said it will be spent on the maintenance of sewage system pipelines that need to be repaired and may be spent on the Veolia Water contracts, which cost no more than $600,000 per firm.
The council further approved requests by Councilmembers Nathaniel Bates, Johnson and Martinez for funding to travel to the Obi Matsuri Festival in Richmond’s sister city of Shimada, Japan next month. During the festival, which happens annually, attendees wear a traditional women’s belt called an obi and pray for the safe delivery of children.
Some community members expressed discontent with the request, and brought up councilmembers’ previous trip to Zhoushan, Richmond’s sister city in China, in September 2017.
“In JFK Park, the grass is as tall as the trees…If you want to pay your money [for the trip], it is fine. If not, let’s get some…on these parks,’ said Madelyn Law, the president of the Park Plaza Neighborhood Council.
Martinez said the Zhoushan trip “was not a vacation, it was a conference and that was actual work that was accomplished.” “We will be doing a presentation on what was accomplished so that the public knows what fruits are born from that visit,” he added.
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