CNHED Releases Comprehensive Analysis of DC’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA)

November 15, 2023

Home News and Updates CNHED Releases Comprehensive Analysis of DC’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA)

New study examines more than four decades of TOPA history, outcomes, and impacts on affordable housing preservation and tenant rights in the Nation’s Capital.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED), in collaboration with The Council of the District of Columbia, unveiled a thorough study titled Sustaining Affordability: The Role of TOPA in DC Housing. The study examines the District of Columbia’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) and its antecedents from 1975-2021, offering valuable insights into the law, its effectiveness, its impact on tenants, its impact on preserving affordability, and its challenges of execution and perception, along with suggested areas of improvement.

“Sustaining Affordability is the first ever comprehensive data evaluation and analysis undertaking for a landmark law that has been in effect for 40 years,” says Stephen Glaude, CNHED’s President and CEO. “The timing couldn’t have been better, as TOPA is in the center of conversations surrounding how the District can continue to preserve its current number of affordable units and improve its affordable housing initiatives.”

The study delves deep into the intricate layers of TOPA, bringing forward an unbiased, in-depth perspective on its effectiveness, areas of improvement, and the broader implications for the DC community. The research took CNHED on a journey through diverse neighborhoods, allowing them to engage with tenants, landlords, policymakers, and real estate professionals, thereby painting a holistic picture of TOPA’s impact.

Study Highlights:
  1. Scope: The research evaluates TOPA’s alignment with the legislative objectives of the Rental Housing Conversion and Sale Act of 1980, its impact on tenant displacement, affordable housing preservation, and tenant engagement.
  2. Components: The study provides a detailed legislative, regulatory, legal, and policy history of TOPA. It offers a descriptive analysis of properties, owners, and tenant outcomes and concludes with an analysis of TOPA history alongside recommendations for improvement.
  3. Methodology: CNHED’s team undertook a meticulous data collection process, with qualitative insights gained from interviews, focus groups, and 16 illustrative case studies spanning all eight wards in the District.

Key Findings

  • The act has significantly contributed to the improvement and preservation of affordable housing in the District – 16,224 affordable units were developed or preserved through TOPA.
  • TOPA has effectively given tenants a seat in property sale negotiations to help shape development outcomes.
  • Tenant buyouts are sometimes an outcome, but buyouts of an entire building are rare.
  • Despite its success, challenges remain, including the need for tenant education, additional funding for projects, attempts by landlords to evade TOPA, and sale timelines.


  1. Realign DHCD Funding Priorities for strengthened TOPA affordable housing preservation.
  2. Introduce reforms to bolster tenant rights and ensure property owner accountability.
  3. Increase accessibility to legal and technical assistance for tenants.
  4. Elevate tenant awareness through early information dissemination and outreach about TOPA.
  5. Implement a data-focused collection and analysis regime, publishing data annually.
  6. Establish a TOPA Improvement Task Force.

For over 40 years, TOPA has provided a solid framework for tenants in the District of Columbia, giving them an opportunity to engage in the negotiation and sale of their rental homes. This study really focuses on how TOPA impacts tenants and the preservation of affordability, highlighting its triumphs and shedding light on areas that require further refinement.

- Stephen Glaude, CNHED President and CEO

CNHED was contracted by the DC Department of Housing and Community Development to conduct this research as an independent study. The findings and recommendations are unbiased and do not represent CNHED’s organizational position.

CNHED extends its gratitude to The Council of the District of Columbia for funding this pivotal study and to all participants who shared their insights and experiences.

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