TOPA rebuilds lives, allowing more people to own their homes

WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — Marlene Frost has called Portner Flats home for the last 43 years.

“I want to be here because I’m happy you’re here. I’m safer here. I feel that this is where Momma put me and I can’t say it no other way,” Frost said. “This is where she put me.”

The building reopened in 2018 after it underwent an 18-month renovation. It now houses 96 units, twice the amount the original building had.

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Portner Flats is one of the success stories that highlights what’s being done to improve affordable housing in the District.

The building had been set to go on the auction block in 2012. But tenants, including Frost, fought for their rights under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). It’s District law that requires tenants in buildings up for sale to be given the first opportunity to buy the property, and convert it into co-ops or condominiums.

“We got a new building,” Frost said. “We got to change a lot of things going on.”

DC council members and other guests got to see the improvements that include a gym, and computer lab. They also visited the Maycroft in Columbia Heights. It was set to go on sale in 2011. But again, tenants fought for their rights and won under TOPA.

“In this time, I feel it’s very important,” said Stephen Glaude, president and CEO of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, CNHED.

CNHED oversees TOPA projects.

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“TOPA hasn’t just preserved people in place,” Glaude said. “It has actually actually enhanced living conditions for many of our residents as well.”

In the case of Marlene Frost, she now uses an elevator, where she once would have relied on stairs to get in and out of her building.

TOPA has developed, or preserved more than 16,000 affordable housing units around the city since its creation, and falls under the District’s Rental Housing Conversion and Sale Act of 1980.

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