Berkeley Mayor Proposes Policy Giving Renters First Dibs on Properties for Sale

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Activists and tenants of 1049 Market Street hold signs as they stage a protest against the landlord's attempts to evict them from the building on March 8, 2016, in San Francisco. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Activists and tenants of 1049 Market Street hold signs as they stage a protest against the landlord’s attempts to evict them from the building on March 8, 2016, in San Francisco. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The mayor of Berkeley, California, is proposing a new housing policy law aimed at giving renters first dibs when a property goes up for sale, as the state battles a severe housing shortage and homelessness that Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared his top priority.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin will announce the proposed ordinance Thursday to give renters “the first refusal and right to purchase” when their apartment buildings or rented homes are put on the market.

City officials say the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act would give tenants more leverage and help them stay housed in one of the country’s most expensive real estate markets, which has pushed rents sky high and contributed to a growing homeless crisis.

California’s homeless crisis took center stage Wednesday when Newsom devoted his entire State of the State speech to the issue,calling the situation in which thousands of people live on California’s streets “a disgrace.”

He urged state lawmakers to make it easier for local authorities to force the mentally ill into treatment, ease the state’s famously strict environmental regulations to speed up construction of homeless shelters and come up with a new permanent funding source for homeless services to replace the state’s habit of relying on one-time surpluses that vary from year to year.

Housing advocates from the San Francisco Bay Area were expected to join Arreguin on Thursday for his announcement, including members of the group known as Moms 4 Housing. The homeless women occupied a three-bedroom home in a distressed West Oakland neighborhood, partly to protest the methods of speculators who snap up distressed homes and leave them empty despite California’s housing shortage.

The Oakland women have said nobody should be homeless when investment companies are buying and fixing up properties to sell at profit. The house they occupied and were evicted from in January is owned by Wedgewood Inc., a Southern California real estate investment group that bought the property at a foreclosure auction last year for just over $500,000.

Wedgewood later agreed to sell the property to Oakland Community Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that acquires land and property for affordable housing, which could give the women a chance to buy the home. The company also agreed to offer a right of first refusal on all 50 of the properties it owns in Oakland.

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