Op-Ed: SBJSA Legislation Only Answer To Closing Mom & Pop Shops


When it comes to the true state of our city’s small businesses, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, in her State of the City Address last month, got it right by drawing attention to the growing crisis faced by long-established small businesses being forced out by exorbitant rent increases when their leases expire.

“Mom-and-pop shops are the economic heart of our city,” Mark-Viverito said. “But skyrocketing real estate prices mean that when small businesses have to renew their leases, they often face significant and unaffordable rent increases — forcing many to relocate, or close completely.”

But what Speaker Mark-Viverito says and what action she is taking are at odds. The action behind her stated solution is to continue the failed policy of her predecessor, former Speaker Christine Quinn, and study the problem while pursuing a policy of inaction as our small businesses continue being destroyed.

The speaker’s solution to study this crisis is a reflection of her continued endorsement by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), whose goal is blocking a vote on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA) while keeping the status quo of commercial tenant exploitation.

“So this year the Council will launch a planning study to develop recommendations for strengthening our small business community through land-use policy and other tools, such as tax incentives,” she said. Yet, how can the speaker acknowledge “unaffordable rent increases” as the core problem and then not address it in her solution?

The speaker is blocking true progressive lawmakers — 27 thus far, a majority of the City Council — from having a chance to vote on and pass progressive legislation while correcting the most antidemocratic and anti-immigrant act committed by a City Council speaker’s office in modern times. In 2009, prior to the Council’s Small Business Committee voting on the SBJSA, a claim was made by then-Speaker Quinn’s office that the bill had “legal problems” and so could not be voted on. The bill was certain to pass with 32 sponsors, including the entire Small Business Committee.

Small business advocates cried foul and correctly pointed out that the powerful real estate lobby made no such legal challenges to the bill at the public hearing — not even in writing — and that there was a long history of court rulings on the measure that upheld its constitutionality every time. This vague legal challenge was a REBNY-created roadblock in collusion with the speaker’s staff to stop a vote on the SBJSA.

That unsubstantiated legal roadblock was proven to have no legal merit by a special legal review of the bill sponsored by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. in 2010. Even after being disproven, the phantom legal roadblock continues to be the only claim by the speaker’s office for denying even a hearing on the SBJSA.

Small business advocates say that Mark-Viverito’s call for another study is redundant and an insult to desperate business owners struggling to survive. Another study is not necessary because Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, recently completed a multiyear study that started in May 2014 and involved 21 government agencies, small business organizations and several small business roundtables to gain the facts. From this extensive study, Brewer made several recommendations, one of which is now being turned into proposed legislation for the Council to consider.

Furthermore, City Comptroller Scott Stringer formed a “Red Tape Commission” to advocate for small business owners and identify their major problems and recommend solutions to address them. He held town hall meetings in five boroughs to listen to community activists and business leaders. The commission’s final report will be released very soon.

Instead of another study benefiting REBNY with the goal of keeping the status quo, the Council speaker must begin public hearings on all proposed solutions to address this crisis and stop the closing of our city’s small business owners. In fact, Mark-Viverito told The Villager in June 2015 that she would hold hearings on the issue — yet, to date, has failed to follow through on her word.

Testifying at the 2009 hearing on the bill, Council Member Mark-Viverito stated, “I’m very proud of the fact that we’re having a hearing on this legislation. I’m very proud of the fact that Robert Jackson has introduced this. I’ve signed on as a sponsor, as many of us here have. I’m not on this committee but I felt compelled to come because it really is an important proposal. We obviously have intent on passing this.”

In short, the Speaker’s call for another study is the opposite position she took when she was a councilmember. Before she became speaker, she called for the City Council to be “firm and strong.” As Speaker, she calls on them to be silent and study the problem. As a councilmember, she recognized that the Council has a responsibility to represent all sectors in this city and not just special interests. As Speaker, she allows the real estate lobby to define the problems of our small business community and propose the solutions to those problems. Her obvious flip-flop has only worsened the crisis.

Today in New York City, the commercial courts issue warrants to vacate businesses an average of 542 times per month. An estimated 1,000 small businesses close each month in New York City.

Another study is the last thing that will preserve small businesses. Why does Speaker Mark-Viverito continue to fail small business and hold the Small Business Jobs Survival Act hostage?