Why saying nope-ah to OPA may just save EPA

Tanya Vincent September 8, 2023


Why saying nope-ah to OPA may just save EPA

There are always two sides to a well-intentioned coin. In the case of East Palo Alto, that coin is the Opportunity to Purchase Act (OPA) – a controversial policy meant to stimulate economic empowerment for residents and renters in EPA. Much like a sheep in wolf’s clothing, it may sound beneficial on paper but, in truth, its long term effects threaten to bring more harm than good to the area. 

For context, the OPA would give non-profit organizations and tenants first dibs on multi-family rental properties when they’re listed for sale. Designed to empower existing tenants, the policy inevitably poses risks to property values and could instead prevent the community’s stability and development in the long run. 

In this post, we explore the challenges associated with this housing policy and its potentially detrimental ramifications on the health of the EPA housing market. 


A Disservice To Current Property Owners

Rather than having the freedom to do as they wish with their investments, current property owners would have to delay their plans to sell or develop their properties while waiting for OPA-eligible parties to make a decision. Property owners who have been in the area for a while and have contributed significant time and money into their homes or apartment buildings would not have the chance to sell on their own terms. 


Administrative Challenges

The OPA comes with a lot of administrative requirements that can lead to confusion and bring unnecessary setbacks to the movement of the housing market, in turn thwarting the economic development of the area. Before selling a home, owners would need to notify eligible parties, assess the financial capability of potential buyers, and ensure that transactions comply with OPA requirements. That’s a lot of red tape for something in the name of equity that doesn’t actually end in equity.  


Potential for Gentrification

Although meant to protect vulnerable communities from displacement, some argue that the OPA may instead contribute to gentrification. It’s not unheard of that “non-profit” organizations sometimes hide ulterior motives behind an advantageous tax status and may not exactly have the best interests of the community at heart. The OPA paves the way for such organizations to step in, raise rents even higher, or mismanage the properties they’re buying. Furthermore, even if it is a well-meaning non-profit or an existing tenant who is able to buy a property thanks to OPA, they may still need to raise rent to cover expenses leading to the same displacement the OPA hopes to eliminate.


Lack of Investment

Although some do it better than others, investors and developers do undoubtedly bring new growth to the community they’re building in. The OPA may discourage investment in East Palo Alto due to the uncertainty around assets and because investors often avoid communities with complex regulations in order to minimize risks. The act's restrictions and the potential for protracted negotiations can deter these investors from contributing to the community's development.


To be clear, the OPA has good intentions. But without looking deeper into these intentions and their true long-term consequences, East Palo Alto may fall prey to a damaged, badly-managed housing market. Existing homeowners with a long-standing stake in the community will be left behind and improvement via future investments may be thwarted. Dismissing the needs of one side of the coin just to ameliorate the other is a solution that will inevitably lead to yet another imbalance. 

If you’d like to get involved in the movement opposing the OPA, please reach out to us here. 

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