Brooklyn Boro

New bill aims to promote affordable rent for small businesses

Legislation prioritizes mom-and-pops over large businesses

March 18, 2019 Scott Enman
Councilmember Rafael Espinal. Photo courtesy of John McCarten/New York City Council
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A Brooklyn councilmember is looking to foster more affordable rent for retailers alongside the city’s push to construct affordable housing developments across the five boroughs.

East New York councilmember Rafael Espinal said New York’s small businesses are floundering under burdensome, rising rents – while the mayor and governor are busy pursuing large tech companies with gargantuan tax cuts. A bill discussed in the City Council on Monday seeks to tie taxpayer support for large developments to a commitment to keep rents down for retailers, too.

The legislation, introduced in February, was one of nine bills discussed Monday by the City Council’s Committee on Small Business aimed at helping New York’s small business community. If passed, economic development projects receiving $1 million or more in financial aid from the city will be required to offer affordable commercial rents to ground-floor merchants. This includes affordable housing developments.

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“The rising rents in Brooklyn are taking a major toll on our mom-and-pops,” Espinal told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We are seeing more places go out of business and more vacant storefronts on once-vibrant commercial corridors like Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick, Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights, and Smith Street in Cobble Hill, to take just a few examples from around our borough.

“My legislation is part of a broader conversation around how to keep rents affordable for all small businesses in NYC. Just as we have set-asides to address the affordability crisis for tenants, we must have set-asides to tackle the growing vacancy crisis for small businesses.”

The proposed legislation, which is co-sponsored by councilmembers Laurie Cumbo and Margaret Chin, would also require a neighborhood retail needs assessments to be produced.

Such assessments would be conducted by the NYC Department of Small Business Services and would likely include a tour of the neighborhood and conversations with local business owners. The city agency would then put together a series of recommendations, and it would determine how much affordable ground-floor space would be dedicated to business owners. SBS would also recommend lower rent prices based on the market value in the area.

Because state government largely controls rent laws, the city is limited in what it can do, but Espinal said his bill is the first step toward a more “comprehensive conversation” around affordable commercial rents.

“Our small business community is suffering, and they feel like the city has turned its back on them,” Espinal said. “While we courted Amazon with lavish tax breaks, our mom-and-pops have been struggling just to keep their heads above water.”

After a pilot version of the program rolled out in East New York, one of four neighborhoods in Espinal’s district, he told the Eagle that he wanted to take the model citywide.

Monday’s committee hearing investigated the struggles of New York’s small business community, which advocates say has been threatened by rapidly rising commercial rents, gentrification, the proliferation of online shopping and oppressive regulations.

Another piece of legislation introduced by Espinal was one that would require nine city agencies to review city and state laws pertaining to small business regulation and to evaluate whether they are outdated or excessively onerous. The agencies would recommend whether the laws should be repealed or whether a cure period should be implemented.

Follower reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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