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Storefront Registry Will Help Small Businesses Combat Speculation

July 21, 2021

ANHD & USBnyc Celebrate Major Victory for Commercial Tenant Organizing

Small businesses in New York City finally have data to help in the fight against gentrification and displacement. Thanks to years of advocacy by ANHD to win the passage of Local Law 157 in 2019, the NYC Department of Finance has collected and published the first round of annual data in the storefront registry from December 2019, with information on storefront rents, vacancies, and lease terms.

The existence of the storefront registry is a major victory for anti-displacement organizing, which would not have happened without the work of United for Small Business NYC (USBnyc), a coalition of community organizations across New York City fighting to protect New York’s small businesses and commercial tenants from the threat of displacement.

For many years, ANHD has supported tenant organizers in using housing data to craft data-driven direct services and campaigns through our trainings and the Displacement Alert Project. With timely data about what’s happening in their neighborhoods and throughout the city, residential tenants can fight back against predatory landlords and push for citywide policies that lead to more equitable outcomes. Now, small businesses will be able to do the same.

Until this point, small business organizers have had to rely on anecdotal evidence and local survey data to make the case that rising rents in gentrifying communities are leading to the displacement of small businesses, nonprofits, artists, and others who rent storefront spaces. Meanwhile, rents and vacancies have risen across the city, and the pandemic has made it more likely that rent increases will lead to shuttered storefronts. Businesses in low-income communities and communities of color are the most vulnerable to commercial displacement. But even in the wake of the pandemic, small businesses are being hit with rent increases they can’t afford, which effectively function as evictions to make way for higher-paying commercial tenants or lead to commercial vacancies.

The initial storefront registry data provides a snapshot of what was happening to storefront spaces before COVID-19 devastated New York City in 2020, including an aggregate analysis of storefront data and a searchable database of storefronts. Thanks to ANHD and USBnyc’s advocacy, New York City will have data on our storefronts that will enable all of us to examine and compare the state of our storefronts, pre- and post-pandemic.

ANHD’s analysis of this new data source found that in 2019, Brooklyn had the highest vacancy rate of any borough at 9.2%, followed closely by Manhattan (9.1%).* 

 

 

The city’s highest vacancy rates were in Central Brooklyn Council Districts 35 and 36, which include the gentrifying, majority-Black neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Prospect Heights, and Crown Heights. These neighborhoods had a vacancy rate of 15.6% (CD 35) and 14.2% (CD 36) as compared to 8.3% citywide.

 

Click here to see the map in a new window.

 

This data also shows huge differences in rents across the city. Median monthly rents in Manhattan were $9.00 per square foot in 2019, while every other borough had a median monthly rent less than $4.00 per square foot.

 

 

Median monthly rents in Council Districts 3 and 4 were $11.00 and $14.00 per square foot respectively. These districts include high-rent commercial corridors in Chelsea, Greenwich Village, and the Upper East Side, as well as Midtown and the new mega-development of Hudson Yards. But even in the outer boroughs, we can see higher median rents in gentrifying districts like the South Asian and Latinx immigrant enclave of Jackson Heights in CD 25 ($5.00/sf), as compared to the Queens-wide median of $3.67. This is an example of a neighborhood where we would expect to see higher rates of displacement as commercial leases expire and speculative landlords look to take advantage of the post-pandemic commercial real estate market.

 

Click here to see the map in a new window.

 

Over the next few months, ANHD will continue to analyze this data and share these critical findings. As we get new updates and compare pre-pandemic rents and vacancies against the changes wrought by COVID-19, we will assess the pandemic’s impact on our commercial corridors and propose policy solutions that address that impact.

We look forward to continued collaboration with Local Law 157’s lead sponsor Council Member Helen Rosenthal; Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Carlina Rivera, who have also put forward legislation to increase publicly available data about commercial corridors; as well as the Department of Finance in making sure this data is collected and accessible to the public.

Regardless of what this and future storefront registry data tell us, we implore all New York City’s current and incoming elected officials to work with us to support our city’s small businesses. We cannot allow the unequal impact of COVID-19 to trigger a wave of commercial and cultural displacement that will resonate across the city.

 

*Note: We calculated the citywide vacancy rates for 2019 by adding Class 1 and Class 2 and 4 data and dividing the number of storefronts reported not leased or owner occupied (i.e. vacant) by the total number of storefronts.

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