By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The Business Affairs and Street Activities Committee for Community Board 6 voted last Thursday to support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act with a handful of suggestions to narrow the scope of the legislation, encouraging local elected officials to focus the bill even more on mom-and-pop type businesses throughout the city.
The resolution the committee passed on the SBJSA encouraged legislators to define “small business,” which the bill doesn’t explicitly do, and provide stipulations to prohibit formulaic businesses or chains from repeating in small neighborhoods.
The resolution additionally encouraged lawmakers to focus on small businesses instead of all commercial businesses, which can also include larger corporate businesses as well as chains. The committee also urged legislators to create provisions in the bill that would encourage landlords to lease to new businesses, as well as to minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned businesses.
Since the bill has been introduced in the City Council and not at the state level, the resolution urged state legislators to create and pass a similar bill with all the same stipulations to solidify the same protections at the state level.
The SBJSA, now over 30 years old, is aimed at getting businesses in good standing an automatic 10-year-lease renewal. This could be through binding arbitration if the landlord and commercial tenant can’t reach an agreement on their own.
The BASA committee originally discussed the legislation during their meeting at the end of November with additional information from Councilmember Carlina Rivera’s budget director, Katie Loeb, but ultimately decided to postpone a vote on a resolution so members could have additional time to review the text of the bill. The resolution passed with a vote of four to one at the December meeting.
Loeb emphasized last month that it’s likely the legislation will be at least partially rewritten.
“When a bill gets a hearing, then it can be amended, and since it hadn’t gotten a hearing (until October), it hadn’t been amended in 30 years,” she explained. “But the general spirit of the bill is still so important.”
Committee member Matt Bondy said that he wasn’t sure about supporting the legislation because of its interference with the free market.
“I have concerns about something like this, and getting our fingers in the marketplace,” he said. “When a small business comes in, there’s a concern of the landlord passing their costs onto the small business tenants. There are so many competing interests here.”
Loeb agreed that landlords passing on costs could be a possible risk but that the leverage would be worth it for small owners.
“The city can’t stop all bad actor landlords but this bill would give small businesses an even footing with landlords,” she said.
Committee member John Kelly conceded at the December meeting that the legislation isn’t perfect but said he felt it was important to start somewhere.
“This is at least moving the ball down the field,” he said. “I get the argument about interfering with the markets but I also get that there are more and more empty storefronts on my block all the time.”
Committee member Paige Judge noted that the community board doesn’t usually contribute input on legislation, making the board’s focus on the SBJSA somewhat unique, and committee chair Kyle Athayde said he felt it was an important enough issue for the board to offer its support.
“We’ve seen it enough that rent has hurt businesses and if they don’t have a place to run their business, they can’t start the conversation if they don’t have the space,” he said. “In the end, we are advisory, but I would rather be proactive than reactive, and later we can take a more detailed look.”
As noted by Athayde, the board’s role as far as the SBJSA is concerned is advisory, though community boards do have the ear of local elected officials.