Are you a New York renter interested in owning your apartment building? A state bill known as the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, or “TOPA,” could help — if it ever passes.

The legislation, spearheaded by state Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblywoman Marcela Mitaynes, was first introduced in 2021 but is back on the table this session as Albany faces mounting pressure to tackle the ongoing housing crisis.

The act would give tenants the right to make the first offer on their building if and when their landlord wants to sell, and would provide resources to help them or a partner (such as a nonprofit) buy it. Residents could then work together to convert their homes into affordable social housing and either run it themselves or choose another organization to do so.

Proponents of the plan describe it as an anti-displacement measure that empowers tenants — especially renters of color and low-income residents — and gives both them and landlords a fair shake.

“What we’re seeing is the continuing dilapidation of our housing stock and [we] wanted to find ways to preserve it,” Mitaynes (D-Brooklyn) told the Daily News. “TOPA also helps prevent displacement, it preserves affordable housing, and it’s an opportunity [for tenants] to own or remain as renters in the property in which they reside.”

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), a powerful trade group, has previously testified against the measure.

“While REBNY supports increasing affordable homeownership opportunities, this counterproductive bill would undermine the residential building transaction market and jeopardize much needed housing production and tax revenues,” James Whelan, the board’s president, said in a statement to The News.

Progressive politicians including Mitaynes hope to double down on their efforts to push the bill through this session after years of stagnation and the collapse of Gov. Hochul’s 2023 housing compact.

Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes speaks as people gather for a rent relief rally at Gov. Kathy Hochul's NYC office on May 6, 2022, in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes speaks as people gather for a rent relief rally at Gov. Kathy Hochul’s NYC office on May 6, 2022, in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

TOPA is often eclipsed in Albany by other big-ticket housing proposals like Good Cause Eviction, with one policy analyst saying TOPA “has not had a tremendous amount of political juice.” It is supported by a broad coalition of housing groups.

A New York City-level version called the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act, or COPA, would have a narrower scope than TOPA and has also never passed.

Some New York tenants are already in the process of trying to buy their buildings even without TOPA in place. But without the legislation it can be a particularly long and difficult process, advocates say.

Arielle Hersh is the policy director for the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, a nonprofit working with a number of such buildings in New York City. She said she is assisting the residents of about 10 buildings across the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens at various stages of TOPA-like acquisitions.

“It takes a lot of coordination, a lot of effort and certainly a lot of money to make these projects happen,” Hersh explained. “And so having TOPA at the state level would create a really transformative right to give tenants the opportunity to sort of insert themselves into the sale process and have some say over what happens in their homes.”

A key piece of TOPA would be funding, which can be difficult for tenants to secure. Several housing groups have asked the state to commit $250 million a year for the next four years, though that request isn’t baked into the legislation.

The organizations, including Housing Justice for All and the NYC Community Land Initiative, estimate this could result in the creation of 27,000 permanently affordable units over a decade.

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