Gianaris Pushes for COVID-19 Rent Forgiveness

Senate Deputy Leaders Michael Gianaris speaks at a press conference in Astoria about his bill to forgive three months rent for small businesses and residents affected by COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Gianaris’s office)

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures and for Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and parts of Woodside, Maspeth, Ridgewood and Woodhaven) that means forgiving three months rent for certain small businesses and residents. 

Gianaris held a press conference on Wednesday in Astoria with local small business owners to highlight the economic plight of small businesses in New York City because of the COVID-19 shutdown. They called for the quick implementation of legislation authored by Gianaris –– including by executive order –– that would ease the rent burden on business owners and residents struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are in the midst of a small business catastrophe the likes of which we’ve never seen before,” said Gianaris. “If we don’t provide immediate relief to these mom and pop neighborhood institutions, they are unlikely to survive and the character of our city will change for the worse.”

Senate bill S.8125-a would forgive three months rent for small businesses and residents who lost work or had to close because of the ongoing public health crisis. It also includes relief for the landlords of those tenants who are struggling to pay their mortgages because of the lack of rent income. 

The bill was introduced to the Senate in March and currently is in committee. 

Critics of the bill say that it doesn’t take into account the ripple effects of not paying rent and that it is like putting a Bandaid on a bullet wound. The legislation doesn’t adequately address the needs of landlords, said James Whelan, the president of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). It also is a short term solution that won’t help the state recover economically from the damage caused by the shutdown. 

“Blanket rent forgiveness proposals, like the one put forward today, do not alleviate the pressures property owners have on maintenance and property taxes nor does it address the long-term needs for New York’s economic recovery,” said Whelan. 

REBNY will be advocating for state and local aid to expand rental assistance programs instead, he said. 

Gianaris’s renewed call to action comes after the release of a report by the NYC Hospitality Alliance that found that in a survey of nearly 500 restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other nightlife establishments throughout the city, 83% could not pay their full rent in July. Nearly 40% of the businesses surveyed did not pay any rent at all. 

“New York’s small business community is in a rent crisis,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. “More and more beloved restaurants and bars will continue to meet their demise unless policies are enacted that deal with the rent crisis.”

Business owners rallied and closed their business for the sake of public health when they were asked to by the government, said Shawn Dixon, the owner of Otis & Finn Barbershop and one of the business owners who spoke at the press conference. But now they are struggling to stay open, and help is nowhere in sight.

We believed our leaders when they said, “we’re in this together.” But, now, here we are five months later having put thousands of dollars into our business just to reopen and months behind on rent, and small businesses are instead left all alone holding the bag,” Dixon said. “We’re calling on our leaders to step up and do their part to this situation right. Rent relief would go a long way towards doing just that and helping our communities and small businesses survive.”