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A Victory for Commercial Tenants

July 25, 2019

City Passes Commercial Vacancy Registry and Penalty

As a part of United for Small Business NYC (USBNYC), a citywide coalition of community organizations across New York City fighting to protect New York’s small businesses and non-residential tenants from the threat of displacement, the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD) celebrates the passage of legislation that will bring much needed safeguards to New York City’s commercial tenants. Yesterday, City Council passed Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s “Storefront Tracker,” a public and searchable database that requires landlords to report the median rents, lease terms, and vacancies of all first and second floor commercial spaces. Also passed was Council Member Carlina Rivera’s “State of the Storefronts” that requires a comprehensive analysis of neighborhood commercial corridors every five years.

These wins come at a time when neighborhoods across the five boroughs have seen steep upticks in vacant commercial space. Landlords may be prompted to warehouse their storefronts in anticipation of rising rents or with the intent of holding out for the highest bidding tenant. New Yorkers in all five boroughs are all too familiar with vacancies dotting cultural corridors that were once home to neighborhood institutions that provided culturally relevant goods, essential services, and places that simply provided a welcoming place to congregate. The loss of these neighborhood institutions has led to what many have called a loss of the city’s soul. While vacancy is an issue citywide, immigrant communities and communities of color experiencing the impacts of gentrification and displacement feel the loss of neighborhood small businesses acutely. When the only neighborhood grocery store shutters and nothing replaces it, the entire community feels its absence.

While most New Yorkers recognize commercial vacancy as an issue that reverberates across the city, little data exists to track the issue. Reports remain either anecdotal or are conducted piecemeal by neighborhood. This legislation will allow policymakers, advocates, and community members to track vacancy trends in their own neighborhoods and communities while holding landlords accountable for failing to register. In a moment when small businesses are experiencing more pressures than ever to survive — exorbitant rents, landlord harassment, warehoused commercial space — there is more to be done to protect our City’s cultural corridors. This legislation gives policymakers and advocates the necessary information to create meaningful protections for New York’s commercial tenants.

The passage of this legislation is a step toward truly equitable economic development. New York City’s economic development policies must center around equity for all New Yorkers for our City to thrive. We applaud the Council for taking a necessary step forward in addressing commercial and cultural displacement and look forward to continuing to work together to address the ongoing issues of commercial tenant harassment, the need for stable rents, access to affordable commercial spaces in low-wealth communities, and more. Commercial displacement is cultural displacement, and it’s clear that it’s time to put an end to it.

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