Yesterday, the City Council held a packed hearing on the “Small Business Jobs Survival Act” (SBJSA), and I attended and listened carefully.
The goal of the bill is one I deeply share: preserving the “Mom & Pops” that are a huge part of what we love about our neighborhoods. This has been a passion of mine for many years, long before I was in the City Council (in my jobs at the Fifth Avenue Committee and the Pratt Center, where we published several policy reports on the matter, on Community Board 6, and just as a resident/shopper/eater/parent). I work closely with our local BIDs, convene regular meetings with small business people, and try to help however I can. Like so many of you, I’m deeply saddened each time when we lose a beloved, long-time small business — a restaurant, a bookstore, a shoe store — and angry when the cause is skyrocketing rents.
I’m willing to see strong action here. At the City Council, we’ve explored a wide range of proposals: zoning that would restrict chain stores (aka “formula retail”) in some areas, or limit banks & drug stores. I’ve proposed a meaningful tax exemption for landlords who commit to long-term leases with modest/affordable rent increases & fair renewal clauses for their small business tenants. We’ve been looking at range of options here.
I’d even be open to consider some form of commercial rent control, that limited how much owners could increase rents, to prevent rapid rent increases from displacing long-time, locally-owned small businesses (to be clear, that’s not what the SBJSA is).
So I’m open to the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. But I’m not sure the SBJSA (at least as currently drafted) will achieve our goals, and whether it will withstand likely legal challenge. In its current form, it makes no distinction between a small business and a Fortune 500 company, so it would cover Mom & Pops, but also investment banks and WeWork. It would require mediation and the offer of renewal leases, but landlords could still insist on the market rent … which seems to me to be what is driving most of the displacement.
I’m open to being convinced, but if the City is going to set up a strong administrative structure and yet another set of regulations that small business owners must take time out of their days to navigate, we need to be certain the policy will address the core problem.
So I listened carefully yesterday. I’m grateful to all the small business owners from all around the city who took their time (we know it’s sure not easy to run a small business) to share their stories and perspectives. I promise to keep you posted on my thinking on the SBJSA, and to keep working hard to preserve the small businesses that make our neighborhoods the places we love.