February 2019: Demystifying COPA

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Demystifying is a regular newsletter feature that aims to simplify complex measures, proposals, and regulations relating to land use, urban planning, and housing. Particular interest is given to how these might affect the lives of immigrant, working-class communities in SOMA and greater San Francisco.

SOMCAN stands in full support of the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA) legislation that would allow qualifed nonprofit organizations to more easily purchase multi-unit residential buildings in San Francisco. Authored by Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer in close collaboration with local housing rights groups, COPA gives nonprofits the right of first offer to buy a building when it enters the real estate market, and the opportunity to match the final offer before a sale is completed. This makes it easier for nonprofits to acquire rent-controlled buildings and pemanently stabilize tenants who are at risk of eviction or displacement.

Rent-controlled apartments have become a prime target for real estate speculation. Speculators and cash buyers swoop in to buy these buildings, evict or “buy-out” existing tenants, and “flip” the units for astronomical profits (either by renting them at market-rate or by converting them into short-term rentals, tenancies-in-common, or condominiums).

SOMCAN has been at the forefront of advocating for this piece of legislation in relation to the impending Central SOMA Plan that will rezone a large portion of the South of Market for luxury office and residential development. To help mitigate the gentrifying impacts of the Central SOMA Plan, SOMCAN had demanded stronger measures to protect tenants and preserve affordable housing. These demands included the passage of COPA and the aggressive acquisition of existing rent-controlled buildings by the City and County of San Francisco.

As it is now, community organizations can do the work of organizing tenants, can secure financing to purchase a building, and can make an offer of purchase to an owner who is looking to sell. However, there is nothing in place to give nonprofits a leg-up in a competitive private market. Too many times, all of that work ends with evictions, loss of families from San Francisco, and loss of rent-controlled housing.

COPA represents a huge step forward in protecting and preserving vulnerable communities in the South of Market and across the entire city. The Community Land Trust Model that the acquisition program is based off has proven to be an effective tool against displacement by preserving essential affordable housing stock, hence keeping tenants in their homes before they are evicted.

Feb 2019Brandon Balidio