Advocates & Council Members Celebrate Passage of Needed Small Business Legislation

New Bill Requires Tracking of Commercial Vacancies Citywide

Small business advocates celebrated today’s passage of small business legislation through the City Council. One of the bills, sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, would begin tracking commercial vacancies, as well as median rents and lease terms, and includes a penalty for failure to report. While the loss of small businesses across the city has increasingly gained attention, the enormous lack of public data surrounding the City’s commercial spaces has been a weakness the real estate industry has exploited to impede efforts to empower commercial tenants. The passage of today’s small business legislation chips away at that tactic and creates a strong foundation for future small business protections.

"Commercial corridors in immigrant communities are increasingly struggling with the challenge of vacancies,” said Annetta Seecharran, Executive Director of Chhaya CDC. “Landlords that hold properties vacant in hopes of a 'triple-A tenant' willing to pay exorbitant rents prevent our small businesses from accessing needed space, inflate commercial rents in our neighborhoods, and kill business synergy in our communities. This bill will help us take an important step towards addressing the vacancy problem."    

The passage of this legislation comes during a moment 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, such as a bank branch or chain restaurant. When vacant storefronts overtake a streetscape, the remaining small businesses face a blighted landscape and reduction in foot traffic. As community groups continue to report, this issue particularly impacts immigrant neighborhoods in which small businesses act as the purveyor of the community’s collective culture.

“Whether it’s our five Chinatowns, or the hundreds of Caribbean-owned businesses in Flatbush, or the South American restaurants and businesses of Elmhurst – successful small businesses are the backbone of the middle class, particularly for new immigrants,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Manhattan, District 6). Unfortunately, we have witnessed the loss of far too many small businesses in the last several years, leaving only empty storefronts behind. My ‘Storefront Tracker’ legislation will require citywide tracking of commercial storefront and second floor spaces for the first time, providing comprehensive data on commercial strips at risk, the location of every vacant storefront, and more. This essential information will be the basis for solutions which help keep small businesses in our communities.”

The bills passed today are part of a larger package of small business bills introduced earlier this year. While United for Small Business NYC supported the passage of both Council Member Rosenthal’s “Storefront Tracker” and Council Member Rivera’s “State of the Storefronts” legislation, other coalition priorities – mainly Council Member Levine’s “Small Business Right to Counsel” bill, which would provide legal services to small businesses facing displacement, and Council Member Gibson’s “Commercial Certificate of No Harassment” bill, which would expand the definition of ‘Commercial Tenant Harassment’ and create a similar program to the 2017 Certificate of No Harassment (CONH) legislation on the residential side – did not pass.

“Council Member Rosenthal’s legislation is an important step in addressing the displacement of commercial tenants in New York City,” said Ivia Cardozo, Staff Attorney, Microenterprise Project, Volunteers of Legal Service. “By requiring landlords to register vacant commercial premises, we hope the City can utilize this information to highlight the inequities in commercial leasing and establish a foundation for future legislative protections for small business tenants. VOLS applauds the City Council in passing this important piece of legislation.”

"Tackling New York’s storefront vacancy and putting an end to the stream of closures of beloved spaces due to exorbitant rents, predatory landlords, and pervasive gentrification are at the core of our advocacy,” said Olympia Kazi, NYC Artist Coalition. “The passage of these data bills will enable local government and all of us to gauge the scale and nature of the problem and its causes. We look forward to working with everybody on the proper solutions that will allow us to preserve spaces for grassroots culture in New York City."

“This legislation is a great step forward in addressing the crisis of vacant storefronts that has afflicted every neighborhood in New York City. For the first time ever, researchers, policy makers, and community members will be able to track vacancies in their neighborhood through a dependable city funded database, providing much needed information,” said Lena Afridi, Director of Economic Development Policy, ANHD. “Perhaps most importantly, this legislation will keep landlords who warehouse commercial properties accountable; failure to register a vacant property will lead to a substantial penalty. We recognize that commercial displacement is cultural displacement and tracking where beloved institutions have been replaced with vacant storefronts is a first step in winning the battle to preserve our commercial and cultural corridors.”

“TakeRoot Justice supports the dynamic, small businesses that reflect New York City’s diversity. Maintaining existing commercial corridors and revitalizing rampant vacant commercial lots are key to a New York City that we can all be proud of,” said Julian Hill, Supervising Attorney, TakeRoot Justice. “We are pleased to see new legislation by Council Members Rosenthal and Rivera that, together, take an important first step toward a more equitable New York City. We look forward to seeing what comes next from New York City Council on the issue of protecting the city’s diverse, small businesses.”

"We applaud the City Council for making citywide storefront assessments a priority. Quality data will ensure future advocacy, planning, and policy are in tune with the real issues small businesses are facing,” said Abigail Ellman, Director of Planning and Development, Cooper Square Committee. “We look forward to building out cohesive approaches that will work for the East Village and Lower East Side."

“The disappearance of small businesses is a crisis that cannot go ignored. Brooklyn A works with small business owners every day who are at risk of imminent displacement from their neighborhoods,” said Samantha Rauer, Senior Staff Attorney, Community and Economic Development Program, Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A. “We are encouraged by this package of legislation, which is a much-needed step towards holding commercial landlords accountable and protecting the small businesses that make up the fabric of New York.”

“This legislation is a big step in the right direction to support small businesses in New York City and create opportunities for many entrepreneurs to start their business, including thousands of vendors who wish they could be in a storefront,” said Mohamed Attia, Co-Director of Street Vendor Project.

“Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition supports Intro 1472,” said Leah James, Lead Equitable Economic Development Organizer, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition. “This public database will help us support our local small businesses that have been harassed and displaced be able to find new locations. Currently we have over 50 vacant store fronts that been vacate for years in the North Bronx. It is a blight to the community.”
 

 

Coalition Points of Contact

  • Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A: Meah Clay, Director of Community and Economic Development Program, (718) 487-1311, mclay@bka.org )
  • Street Vendor Project: Mohamed Attia, Co-director of Street Vendor Project, mattia@urbanjustice.org, 646-602-5683 
  • ANHD: Lena Afridi, Director of Economic Development Policy, Lena.A@anhd.org; 212-747-1117 x12
  • TakeRoot Justice: Rodrigo Bacus, Staff Attorney, rbacus@takerootjustice.org, 646 459 3054
  • Volunteers of Legal Service: Ivia Cardozo, Staff Attorney, Microenterprise Project, icardozo@volsprobono.org, 347-521-5712
  • Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition Leah James, Lead Economic Development Organizer Leah@northwesbronx.org 646 399-5487
  • NYC Artists Coalition Olympia Kazi, 917-254-1545, olympia@nycartc.com
  • Cooper Square Committee Abigail Ellman, Director of Planning and Development, abigaile@coopersquare.org, 212-228-8210
  • Chhaya CDC Shrima Pandey, Small Business Program Manager, shrima@chhayacdc.org, 718-478-3848

 

USBNYC Membership:

Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD)—Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A—Chhaya CDC—Cooper Square Committee—Fourth Arts Block—Municipal Arts Society (MAS)—
Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition—NYC Artist Coalition—Street Vendor Project—TakeRoot Justice—Women’s Housing & Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco)—

Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS)

www.usbnyc.org
@USB_NYC #NoSmallBizNoNYC

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