A housing policy proposed by the city of East Palo Alto is attracting the attention — and vitriol — of homeowners and landlords.
On Sunday, opponents rallied in front of East Palo Alto City Hall to protest the policy. In recent weeks, residents and outside community members have waited in a digital queue to comment in hourslong, evening City Council meetings that extended close to midnight.
And on social media and in email inboxes, criticism and sometimes calls for termination have been lobbed at city officials.
“There have been folks on the social media pages, in public, who have directly attacked staff, asking for their firing,” Mayor Carlos Romero said during a council meeting on Dec. 7. “This is depriving someone of their livelihood. … I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
The controversial law in question is the Opportunity to Purchase Act (OPA), which so far has been characterized as a tool to create more affordable housing by proponents and a destructive policy that meddles with the rights of homeowners and mom and pop landlords by opponents.
“The big lie in OPA is that renters are going to be the homeowners of this process,” said Mark Dinan, one of the lead opponents of the policy and moderator of East Palo Alto Neighbors, a Facebook group with more than 8,000 members, including a few council members. “They’re not. They’re going to be the ones living there, but they’re just gonna have a different landlord.”
The gist of the policy, which the council is scheduled to deliberate on in a special meeting Wednesday night, is to give tenants, affordable housing nonprofits and the city itself first dibs to purchase a property before it’s put on the open market.
The process proposed in East Palo Alto so far is as follows: For a property to which OPA applies, an owner provides a notice to eligible purchasers of his or her intent to sell the property. Eligible purchasers, such as a tenant, a nonprofit or the city, can express interest in buying the property or can waive that right.
If the prospective purchaser is not interested, the owner can put the home on the market. If one of the three groups wants to buy, however, they will make an initial offer.
Owners can then choose to reject or accept it. If the owner rejects, then they can proceed to list the property on the market and enter into what’s called a “conditional contract” with a third party. During that time, the interested tenant or nonprofit may still have a chance to match the offer of the third party.
Other Bay Area cities where housing is a hot-button issue have implemented or are considering this policy, including …….