Brooklyn Boro

Mayor delivers State of the City focused on small businesses, children and the environment

Landlord Vacancy Tax might address empty storefront issue, if Albany plays along

February 7, 2020 Mary Frost
112 Montague St., which has sat vacant since the summer of 2012. Eagle photos by Scott Enman
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Mayor Bill de Blasio said he aims to help out small businesses, keep kids safe and make the city greener in his annual State of the City speech on Thursday.

To help mom-and-pop shops, the city will provide free lawyers for lease negotiations and convene a commission to study protecting small businesses from “egregious rent hikes.”

“In your own neighborhood, is there a cherished small business, a mom and pop store that you have seen close that you wish was still there?” de Blasio asked. “I’m going to name a commission of people of different viewpoints and different expertise to come back to us once and for all this year with an answer: Is there a legal way we can have commercial rent control in New York City? That is the answer we need, and, if it’s a yes, we should go to Albany and get it done in 2021.”

The mayor also said the city would work with Albany to pass a Landlord Vacancy Tax on landlords who keep vacant storefronts off the market while waiting for high-paying tenants like banks and chain stores.

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He said a study says there are 12,000 vacant storefronts in the city.

This practice plagues neighborhoods across Brooklyn, where commercial vacancies can drag on for years. The former site of a Starbucks at 112 Montague St. in Brooklyn Heights, for example, has been vacant since at least 2012.

“Storefront vacancy and the changing retail landscape is a complicated problem for neighborhoods and commercial corridors across New York City and the entire country,” Lara Birnback, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, told the Brooklyn Eagle following the mayor’s speech on Thursday.

“The BHA will be hosting a panel discussion on this very topic titled later this month at our annual meeting on Feb. 26 at Saint Francis College,” she said. “We invite anyone interested in this topic and how it impacts our neighborhood to attend.”

For children and youth

The city plans to reopen or rebuild a number of community centers and Parks Department recreation centers. This includes two NYC Parks recreation centers already in the pipeline, and seven new recreation centers in Soundview, Tremont, Coney Island, Bushwick, Astoria, Queens Village and Staten Island’s South Shore. These changes would increase youth membership by approximately 20,000 kids, the mayor said.

The city will also deploy 300 Youth Coordination Officers to every precinct, where they will help young people access “positive community resources,” according to the mayor.

Other education-oriented measures include 1,000 new lights, stop signs and speed bumps around schools; a new NYPD Vision Zero Unit, expanded 3-K (pre-K for 3-year-olds) and hiring more male teachers of color.

“In September, [3-K] will be in four more districts — District 12 in the Bronx; District 29, Southeast Queens; District 1 in Chinatown, Lower East Side, and East Village; District 14 in Greenpoint and Williamsburg,” de Blasio said.

The city will also roll out a new $43 million program to offer home visits to all first-time parents in New York City by 2024. Every first-time parent in the city will get access to home visiting services, beginning in Brooklyn this year.

In announcing the program, First Lady Chirlane McCray told the crowd that when she and her husband had their first child, “It wasn’t easy. The car seat came with more instructions than the baby.”

Greening the environment

De Blasio said the city is launching a second wave of the Green New Deal that will cut vehicle emissions, ban more plastics and produce green energy.

With New York State and Empire Wind as partners, the city will ready the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park to be used as a hub for staging, installing and operating turbines across the tri-state area.

“We’ll create 500 green jobs and support clean wind power that would reduce emissions equivalent to taking 200,000 cars off the road,” de Blasio said.

He said the city would also double down on solar power, and increase hydropower, which will help run city government operations on 100 percent renewable energy.

De Blasio said he would issue an Executive Order to have all on-road vehicles in the city’s fleet be plug-in electric by 2040. By 2025, 4,000 vehicles will be replaced or converted to electric. The first electric school buses will hit the streets this year. By 2014, the city’s goal is to stop using natural gas and other fossil fuels in large building systems in New York City. He pledged to issue an Executive Order stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure.

The League of Conservation Voters applauded de Blasio initiatives on the environment.

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams thanked the Mayor for taking a “real, direct approach” to issues New Yorkers are facing. But he said he wanted more action on housing, saying, “Fixing NYCHA will require real investment. The current city budget proposal cannot keep up with the trend of disrepair, much less reverse it, especially as the state continues to deny critical funding.”

After a year of power shut offs at the hands of National Grid, Williams said, “New Yorkers were held hostage, used as a bargaining chip in a political debate over pipelines while seeing their homes lose heat and their businesses lose money … It’s time to take it back.”

Regarding mental illness, Williams urged “a full transition away from a law enforcement response and toward a public health response.”

City Comptroller Scott Stringer applauded the mayor, but said the “massive scale” of the city’s housing crisis demanded the city do more to help low income residents.

“565,000 New York households pay over half of their income in rent, are severely overcrowded, or have been in a homeless shelter for over a year,” Stringer said in a statement.

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