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Land in the Air: Condo Governance in the Context of Gentrification

Authors: Carolyn Gallaher*, American University
Topics: Urban Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: land ownership, condominiums, governance. gentrification, Washington DC
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores landownership in the context of urban neoliberal regimes. In particular I examine a particular subset of home-ownership—condominium and co-operatives—in Washington DC. The nation’s capital is a good place to look at condominium and co-operative development because the city is undergoing rapid gentrification. Thousands of African American and Hispanics have been displaced from the city in the last 15 years. The literature on gentrification demonstrates that condominiums—new build and conversions—are often a harbinger of gentrification. In this paper I explore whether this is the case in tenant-led condominium/co-operative conversions. These conversions occur in DC through a law known as the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). When a multi-family residential building is sold in DC, TOPA allows tenant associations the right to refuse the sale and make the purchase instead. With the help of for-profit or non-profit developers, tenants may then convert their building to condo or co-operative. Numerous low-income housing advocates work with tenants to facilitate conversations. In this paper I look at how tenants-cum-owners manage their property post-conversion. In particular, I ask—do their governance structures reject neoliberal precepts about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ owners and ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviors in the context of gentrification, or do they reproduce these norms? My data is derived from interviews with condo/co-op boards in tenant conversions (to condominium, co-operative, and limited-equity co-operatives) across the city’s racial/class divides.

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