Berkeley proposes ordinance giving renters first dibs on properties for sale

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Berkeley city leaders are considering an ordinance that would give renters the first shot at buying their apartment buildings if they go up for sale.

Meantime, a state lawmaker is sponsoring a bill at the Capitol that would help turn vacant homes into affordable housing.

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin is sponsoring the new measure called the Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act or TOPA. He announced the measure in a news conference today, surrounded by tenant activists and housing non-profits at a two-story apartment building on 10th Street.

"We need to do more to protect existing tenants and keep housing permanently affordable," said Mayor Arreguin.

When the 10th St. apartment building went up for sale, the city of Berkeley and the Northern California Land Trust joined forces to help tenants buy the building.

TOPA would turn that example into law.

It would give tenants the right to make the first offer and right of first refusal if a landlord puts the building up for sale. It would be the first ordinance of its kind in the state.

James Brooks is one of the 10th Street tenants. He acknowledges that rising costs have hit blacks and minorities hardest, but says the problem is bigger than that.

"If you look around thinking it's just a black thing, or a white thing, Chicano thing, no it's not. It's a money thing," Brooks said.

But the impact on black people has been devastating. since 1970, Berkeley has lost more than half its African American population. So there is an emphasis on helping minorities.

Help is what drew Dominique Walker to Berkeley.

You may remember her as one of the Moms 4 Housing who took over a vacant home in Oakland and forced a court battle.

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"That's so special to me for folks to organize because we know when we organize we win," Walker said. Oakland is considering a similar ordinance.

Meantime, state senator Nancy Skinner of Berkeley has introduced a bill in Sacramento that would target vacant homes for affordable housing.

The bill would allow local governments to turn vacant homes into affordable housing and give cities and counties the power to fine corporations that leave homes vacant for too long.

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