DC’s First Right Purchase Program: A Key Tool to Preserve Affordable Housing

The District has helped preserve nearly 1,400 affordable homes for low- and moderate-income tenants as housing costs skyrocketed across the city. That is the key finding of a new DCFPI report on the city’s “First Right Purchase Program,” which helps tenant associations purchase their buildings when landlords are ready to sell. The program is an amazing tool that has helped low- and moderate-income residents stay in their homes, from Columbia Heights to Deanwood, preventing displacement as housing costs rise and neighborhoods develop.

But like many of DC’s housing programs, First Right Purchase has been held back by reductions in funding in recent years.

DCFPI’s review also identified other steps, beyond funding, to strengthen this program. These include making it easier for tenants to access funds quickly when their building goes up for sale, and ongoing technical assistance for tenants after they have purchased their building.

Tenants in DC have a powerful right — they get the first chance to purchase their apartment building whenever it goes up for sale. But without financial and technical assistance, many tenant groups are unable to take advantage of this important right. That’s where First Right Purchase steps in, providing low-interest loans to tenant groups that want to purchase ‘ and in many cases rehabilitate ‘ their building.

Cutbacks in available funds ‘ from DC’s Housing Production Trust Fund and the federal Community Development Block Grant program ‘ have limited the use of First Right Purchase in recent years. Just 35 new units were preserved in 2012, while over 5,000 units of rental housing were up for sale across 99 buildings in DC that same year. First Right Purchase cannot preserve affordable housing unless it is adequately supported.

Ensuring the viability of First Right Purchase and long-term success of tenant-purchased buildings should be a high priority for the District. Here are DCFPI’s recommendations to expand and strengthen the First Right Purchase Program:

  • Increase funding to make more First Right Purchases possible;
  • Make it easier for tenant groups to get needed funds quickly for initial stages of a purchase;
  • Enhance the funding available per project and increase funds available for capital needs;
  • Streamline the process for underwriting and approving First Right Purchases; and
  • Provide assistance to tenant groups after their building has been purchased to support the challenging tasks of managing their buildings.

To read the complete report, click here

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.