Analyzes whether tenant right-to-buy programs may mitigate displacement in fast-gentrifying cities like Washington, DC


The Politics of Staying Put

Condo Conversion and Tenant Right-to-Buy in Washington, DC

Carolyn Gallaher

paper: $34.95, Feb 16
EAN: 978-1-4399-1265-2

cloth: $84.50, Feb 16
EAN: 978-1-4399-1264-5

e-book: $34.95, Feb 16
EAN: 978-1-4399-1266-9

282 pp
6 x 9
33 color illustrations


"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

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.



Excerpt available at


"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




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)

Carolyn Gallaher is Associate Professor in the School of International Service at American University. She is the author of On the Fault Line: Race, Class, and the American Patriot Movement and After the Peace: Loyalist Paramilitaries in Post-accord Northern Ireland.


Subject Categories

Urban Studies
Political Science and Public Policy

In the Series

Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy

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, focusing on cultural and social issues. The editors seek proposals that analyze processes of urban change relevant to the future of cities and their metropolitan regions, and that examine urban and regional planning, environmental issues, and urban policy studies, thus contributing to ongoing debates.


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