The Politics of Staying Put
Condo Conversion and Tenant Right-to-Buy in Washington, DC
by Carolyn Gallaher
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Pub Date 01 Mar 2016 | Archive Date 01 Feb 2016
When cities gentrify, it can be hard for working-class and low-income residents to stay put. Rising rents and property taxes make buildings unaffordable, or landlords may sell buildings to investors interested in redeveloping them into luxury condos.
In her engaging study The Politics of Staying Put, Carolyn Gallaher focuses on a formal, city-sponsored initiative—The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA)—that helps people keep their homes. This law, unique to the District of Columbia, allows tenants in apartment buildings contracted for sale the right to refuse the sale and purchase the building instead. In the hands of tenants, a process that would usually hurt them—conversion to a condominium or cooperative—can instead help them.
Taking a broad, city-wide assessment of TOPA, Gallaher follows seven buildings through the program's process. She measures the law's level of success and its constraints. Her findings have relevance for debates in urban affairs about condo conversion, urban local autonomy, and displacement.
“The Politics of Staying Put is an engaging, well-researched book on a fairly under-researched topic. Gallaher provides an in-depth case study of condominium conversion and a policy designed to dampen the negative outcomes associated with this process. She illustrates conditions and outcomes that do not fall neatly in categories typically used to discuss and critique gentrification and neoliberalism, thereby complicating our understanding of the role of condo conversion in displacement. This book is an important theoretical contribution to the literature.”—Lance Freeman, Professor, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University and author of There Goes the ’Hood: Views of Gentrification from the Ground Up (Temple)