A Breakthrough in Equitable Housing Policy: East Palo Alto Opportunity to Purchase Act


In a historic move that marks a significant shift in housing policy, the City of East Palo Alto’s City Council has passed the East Palo Alto Opportunity to Purchase Act (EPA OPA). This groundbreaking legislation extends its protective reach to both single-family homes and multifamily properties. It empowers tenants, qualified non-profit housing providers, and East Palo Alto itself with the right of first offer, and in the case of multifamily property transactions, the right of first refusal for qualified non-profits and the City. This act is a beacon of hope by ensuring that properties financed by public funds remain permanently affordable for lower-income families. 

To appreciate the significance of EPA OPA, it’s essential to understand Opportunity to Purchase Acts (OPA), which are designed to give tenants, community land trusts, affordable housing providers, and community-based organizations a right of first refusal or an exclusive period to make an offer on a property. This approach is particularly effective in very competitive housing markets, providing eligible buyers with time to assemble financial resources to make market-rate offers. OPAs can slow the encroachment of speculative or predatory buyers while preserving affordable housing, stabilizing existing residents and communities and expanding ownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income tenants.

EPA OPA is a paradigm shift in addressing the housing crisis – a testament to the power of collaboration and the unyielding commitment to keeping communities intact.

The Journey to EPA OPA

The path to this monumental achievement is a story of commitment to community engagement, cross-sector collaboration, years of study and the pursuit of equitable housing. The story began with the passionate advocacy of Elizabeth Jackson, a long-time resident of East Palo Alto. Her efforts, combined with the unanimous decision of the City Council in 2018 to explore innovative housing policies, set the stage for this transformative journey.

The Partnership for the Bay’s Future (PBF) is proud to have supported this policy journey by awarding East Palo Alto a Policy Grant both in 2019 and 2021. These grants bolstered collaboration between the city and local community-based organizations (including CLSEPA, YUCA, PAHALI, and EPA CAN DO), a partnership which was foundational to crafting and passing this transformative policy.  

The Impact of EPA OPA

The EPA OPA is more than just a policy; it’s a paradigm shift in addressing the housing crisis. It’s a testament to the power of collaboration and the unyielding commitment to keeping communities intact – ensuring homes remain accessible and affordable. This act empowers tenants and non-profit housing providers to compete in a market that historically shut them out. 

The EPA OPA represents an important innovation in housing policy, one that is building momentum across the Bay Area and worth considering by other jurisdictions. It demonstrates how substantive commitments to preserve affordable housing can prevent residential displacement and address deferred maintenance in the housing stock. This approach ensures that all communities can thrive as cities grow, promoting equity by ensuring that less-resourced communities have the funding necessary to keep their homes affordable.  

In the broader landscape of housing justice, OPA policies are part of a movement of equity-centered housing solutions that local communities are innovating. Policies like OPA open new pathways to a housing system that creates accessible, stable, healthy and affordable homes, strengthening communities and protecting tenants from losing their homes through affordable housing preservation.

This policy is a resounding victory for East Palo Alto and a shining example for others to follow in the quest for housing justice. It’s a celebration of what can be achieved when a community unites for the greater good, demonstrating the power of a new tool in the fight for equitable and affordable housing. 

Looking to bring OPA to your community? Download the Opportunity to Purchase Act Playbook

The Second Reading for the EPA OPA Ordinance is scheduled for Tuesday, December 5, 2023 at 6:30 pm. Join virtually