The Politics of Staying Put
Condo Conversion and Tenant Right-to-Buy in Washington, DC
Publication: Feb 16
Publication: Feb 16
Publication: Feb 16
6 x 9
12 tables, 5 line drawings, 16 halftones, 33 color illustrations
Analyzes whether tenant right-to-buy programs may mitigate displacement in fast-gentrifying cities like Washington, DCRead an excerpt from Chapter 1 (pdf).
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.
"A semi-ethnographic examination of efforts in one U.S. city to curb gentrification by harnessing the paradoxical power of the condominium to mitigate turnover even as it generates it. The Politics of Staying Put is a deeply researched study of tenant empowerment that makes an important contribution to debates in the social sciences about displacement, neighborhood governance, and apartment living, challenging the dominant view of the condo as yuppie. Rich fieldwork and case studies illustrate how communities can — and cannot — successfully challenge the market in an era of rapid urban transformation." —Matthew Gordon Lasner, Assistant Professor, Hunter College, author of High Life: Condo Living in the Suburban Century
"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)
"Staying Put offers students of Washington history a sketch of the economic and demographic trends that have shaped life and political discourse in D.C. communities in the early decades of the home-rule city. The volume will be particularly valuable for those curious about why and how well-intentioned social justice policy may miss its mark or who are interested in wrestling with the question of how policy might be better engineered. Gallaher's work contributes to the general study of America's millennial cities by showing what the urban struggle to accommodate public objectives and market forces has looked like in D.C. under limited home rule." —Washington History
"The Politics of Staying Put is Gallaher’s effort to understand the law’s role in advancing social justice and a personal account of how she moved from being a beneficiary of such legislation to a critic of its uneven impact.... Though the Washington experience is unique, Gallaher’s ability to place it within the larger debate over the proper balance between government intervention and reliance on market forces thrusts her study into a broader policy framework. As such, The Politics of Staying Put should resonate widely for urban studies scholars." —Journal of Urban Affairs
"Gallaher's recent book, The Politics of Staying Put examines the means through which city residents at risk of displacement via gentrification, specifically though the conversion of rental apartments to condominiums, push back against developers using Washington's unique laws allowing tenants a right of first refusal in such cases. Rich in historical and empirical detail, this book is a welcome addition to an ever-growing body of work on contemporary practices of urban development.... It is well researched and the arguments Gallaher presents about displacement are all well supported with her historical, ethnographic, and interview-based evidence. What I found particularly helpful and even refreshing were the ways this book personalizes the process of gentrification.... (T)his book (is) useful and insightful, especially for its excellent ethnographic methodology." —Historical Geography
"(Gallaher) analyzes the dynamics of gentrification, examining the tension between established neighborhoods and a booming real estate market in Washington, DC. Unlike the many critics of neoliberalism, Gallaher concedes that the market economy is likely to endure, and she concludes that real estate markets, if properly regulated, can allow some middle-class residents to 'stay put.' But Gallaher’s detailed study also notes that government efforts to rein in Washington’s real estate market, while not without their successes, have thus far proved insufficient to prevent rising prices, displacement, and gentrification.... (H)er finely detailed examination of the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act leads her to conclude that critics of neoliberalism...have overstated their case." —Journal of Urban History
Table of Contents
1. Staying Put in the New DC
2. From Bullets to Cocktails: A Capital Transformation
3. Gentrification and Its Discontents
4. The Rental Housing Conversion and Sale Act of 1980
5. Sample Conversions and Metrics of Analysis
6. Displacement Mitigation and Its Limits
7. Markets, Politics, and Other Obstacles to Low-Income Home Ownership
8. "95/5": The TOPA Sidestep
9. Is TOPA the Politics of Staying Put We Want?
Appendix 1: Glossary of Terms
Appendix 2: A Short Primer on Condominiums
Appendix 3: Interviews
About the Author(s)
In the Series
Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy edited by David Stradling, Larry Bennett, and Davarian Baldwin
The Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy Series, edited by David Stradling, Larry Bennett, and Davarian Baldwin, was founded by the late Zane L. Miller to publish books that examine past and contemporary cities. While preserving the series’ foundational focus on the policy, planning, and environmental issues so central to metropolitan life, we also join scholarly efforts to push the boundaries of urban studies. We are committed to publishing work at the shifting intersections of cultural production, community formation, and political economy that shape cities at all scales, from the neighborhood to the transnational.