I have lived in Kew Gardens for nearly two decades. I love it here. All the local store owners know my kids, and few things excite me more than the food in my district. Too often, I walk by a shop feeling heartbroken when they are forced to close. The pandemic has thrust our already vulnerable small business sector further into a state of crisis. The Partnership for NYC estimates that roughly one third of NYC’s 240,000 small businesses may not make it.
Even prior to the pandemic, over 1,000 small businesses were closing their doors each month in New York City. New York City was ranked one of the worst cities in the country to start, grow or maintain a successful business. When surveyed, immigrant business owners in Queens overwhelmingly agreed that rising rents and unfair lease terms were the main challenges in running a small business. This can be resolved with effective policy.
If elected, one specific bill I will fight for is the Small Business Job Survival Act (SBJSA). The SBJSA would bring unprecedented protections to commercial tenants by doing a few crucial things:
- It would ensure that all commercial tenants receive a minimum lease of 10 years, and guarantee a tenants right to renewal.
- During the lease renewal period, if the landlord and tenant could not agree upon fair lease terms, a mutually agreed upon arbitrator would determine the lease amount based on criteria including landlord costs, condition of the space, fair market rents in the area, longevity of the business, and lease history.
- After the lease amounts are determined, the tenant would have the chance to accept or reject the arbiter’s terms before the landlord could look for a new tenant.
- The SBJSA restricts landlords from pushing their property taxes onto small businesses. For context, the proportion of commercial rent that goes to paying for property taxes doubled from 2007-2017.
This bill is not a new idea; it was first introduced in 1985, then was reintroduced in 2009 and again in 2018. Real estate interests are vehemently opposed to the bill and have sought to obstruct it at every turn.
I do think the bill needs amendments; the SBJSA currently extends protections to all New York City commercial tenants, including places like Target and Bank of America. I have no interest in further propping up chain stores and believe we can effectively narrow the scope of the bill to exclusively uplift our mom and pop shops.
The SBJSA will be one of several small business bills I will fight for if elected. I believe we must bring back commercial rent control (which New York City had from 1945-1963), although I acknowledge that may be under Albany’s control. Any commercial rent control I’d support would need to cover all creative venues, have options for long term leases, and center small businesses owners, immigrants and people of color on the rent guidelines board.
Additionally, I support creating a public bank to divest New York City’s money from Wall Street, and invest in our small businesses, along with increasing grants and revolving loans for small businesses, with specific funding to enhance the worker cooperative sector.
The backbone of our city are our small businesses. Small businesses do far more for our economy than corporations. In New York City, small businesses provide more than three million jobs, making them the majority of employers — not Wall Street or corporate chains.
The failure to protect small businesses is particularly harmful to immigrant communities and communities of color. In Queens, nearly 70% of small businesses are owned by foreign-born New Yorkers. Throughout New York City, 73% of employees in small businesses are people of color.
We must protect our small businesses. On June 22, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to elect leaders who think structurally, stand up to real estate interests, and are embedded in their communities.
Aleda Gagarin is a mother, non-profit leader, community activist and City Council candidate running in the 29th district in Queens to represent Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Rego Park and Richmond Hill.
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