You’d think a law that would give small businesses a fighting chance against astronomical rents and the soulless chains willing to pay them would be an easy sell for a City Council chock-full of progressives and our supposedly liberal mayor.
Yet Mayor Bill de Blasio, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James, and Robert Cornegy, the chairperson of the council’s Committee on Small Business, won’t even allow the legislation to go before a committee hearing, even though 27 councilmembers support it. Why?
In short, because it would supremely piss off the powerful real estate interests that all major politicians in New York City must answer to, which makes it a total nonstarter. Debating the Small Business Jobs Survival act would start a conversation about the future of the city that no ambitious politician actually wants to have.
At 9 a.m. Friday morning, a group of community advocates will hold a rally outside City Hall to protest the mayor and the council’s willful inaction on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would give commercial tenants a ten-year minimum lease, as well as the right to renewal, and a right to go to arbitration to settle on a new rent.
The SBJSA has been kicking around in some form or another since commercial rent control died in New York City in 1963, and with it, the ability for a small business owner to have any sort of economic stability in New York City. Instead, they became subject to the whims of landlords and speculation, larger market forces that are able to take a vibrant, locally owned business district and completely clear it out, in just a few months.
“This isn’t a silver bullet of legislation,” said Jenny Dubnau, an artist based in Long Island City, who’s a member of the Artist Studio Affordability Project (ASAP), an organization that aims to unite artists and small business owners who are each being displaced by commercial speculation. “All we’re asking for is some level of negotiating power. We need something to help us stop the bleeding.”
Unlike rent-stabilized units, or rent-controlled apartments, under the SBJSA, there wouldn’t be state-dictated increases or freezes. However, the all-powerful Real Estate Board of New York has viewed even a discussion of the law as an affront to good manners, and gotten City Hall to label the proposed legislation as rent control.
“This is a free market. It’s not something that should be negotiated,” REBNY president Steve Spinola told the Villager last year when asked about the legislation.
When now-mayor de Blasio was a councilmember, he supported the SBJSA. Now, he won’t go near it. Same goes for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilman Brad Lander, and Public Advocate Tish James, all of whom supported the bill before they ascended to leadership positions. For Dubnau, the turnaround by progressive leadership on the SBJSA is particularly galling.
“The politics of this city is dominated by REBNY,” Dubnau told the Voice. “It’s a deeply problematic system, but does this mean we don’t try to fight it?”
“The administration recognizes the growing challenges small businesses face finding space they can afford, but has not supported commercial rent control,” the mayor’s office says, following REBNY’s lead and incorrectly identifying the law as “rent control.”
City Hall pointed out some limited resources they had put together for small business owners, like legal aid for small businesses facing eviction, but has done almost nothing to stop the eviction rates from skyrocketing in neighborhoods that are undergoing gentrification or rezoning.
To save face, many of the politicians against the legislation have questioned its constitutionality, and whether it would hold up to muster if it was passed. But as the lawsuits surrounding soda and plastic bag legislation can attest, the City Council has had no problem passing laws that might ultimately get struck down in court.
As entire blocks of locally owned businesses are shuttered across the city, some politicians are actually trying to so something to save mom and pop stores. At least 27 of them. But apparently not any of the ones that actually matter — and until one of them steps up, even more swaths of the city will be replaced by chain stores, as the mall-ification of New York City continues, unabated.