Minneapolis leaders invited a delegation from the nation’s capital to describe how that city gives low-income tenants the right to buy their apartment buildings when landlords put them up for sale.
City Council members are considering adopting a similar law in Minneapolis as another means of slowing the loss of affordable housing. On Friday, council members hosted housing officials and tenant advocates from Washington, D.C., to explain the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, which was passed in the district in 1980.
“Tenant empowerment is extremely important,” said Danilo Pelletiere, senior adviser for D.C.’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). The policy, he said, creates “a trigger … that doesn’t exist in a lot of places that allows people to stay in place.”
Under the act, if an apartment building is up for sale, tenants have the first right of purchase. If they pursue it, the city helps them organize, prepare legal documents and file loan applications.
Tenants can choose to buy the building and turn it into a cooperative or condominium; set up a development agreement with another party; or vacate the building in exchange for a payout. In some cases, the district can step in and buy the building if talks between the tenants and landlord break down. In the past two decades, more than 1,000 units of affordable housing have been preserved under the act, according to DHCD.
Across the Twin Cities, hundreds of low-income tenants have lost their housing in recent years when properties were sold to developers who made improvements and raised rents. City officials have recently worked to strengthen rights for renters. Last week, the council passed new protections limiting landlords’ ability to reject applicants based on criminal history, credit scores or past evictions.
Council Member Jeremy Schroeder said he was interested in the D.C. tenant purchase program and that the city’s own policy, which he will be drafting with Council Member Steve Fletcher, could help keep neighborhoods stable.
“Right now the market goes very fast, and we are losing affordable housing and we’re not building enough affordable housing at market rate to replace it,” he said. “We should all be very concerned about that.”
The council’s consideration comes as more than 100 tenants in five apartment buildings owned by former landlord Stephen Frenz are fighting to buy the properties. Frenz has attempted to evict them from the buildings, but a Hennepin County judge canceled a trial and threatened to dismiss most of the eviction cases Monday.
Schroeder said the city’s upcoming proposal could help delineate the process for similar situations in the future.