Opinion: Lawmakers: stand up to real estate

By Sung Soo Kim
Founder, Small Business Congress

For 10 years, small business owners have been denied economic justice and fair treatment by our government. The decade-long collusion between the powerful lobby REBNY and the Speaker’s Office successfully blocked a vote on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (Jobs Act), the only real solution to stop the closing of our small businesses and to end their crisis. The Jobs Act is a bill giving rights to business owners when their leases expire, rights needed to negotiate fair lease terms.

Finally in October 2018, the Jobs Act was given a public hearing by the Small Business Committee, chaired by Councilmember Mark Gjonaj. He was hand-picked by REBNY because Gjonaj owns his own real estate company and is the most pro-landlord and anti-tenant lawmaker in the council, and on record as opposed to the Jobs Act.

Unlike the last hearing on the Jobs Act in June 2009 by then-Chairman David Yassky, Gjonaj’s hearing did not focus solely upon the root cause of businesses closings, the one-sided commercial lease renewal process, which is what the Jobs Act addresses. Instead, Gjonaj’s hearing focused upon the empty storefronts on every main street and trying to sell the same old distracting false narrative that fines and over regulations were more pressing problems.

At the conclusion of David Yassky’s 2009 hearing on the Jobs Act, he and his entire committee selected the Jobs Act as the best solution to stop the closing of small businesses and save jobs. Every member of the committee became sponsors, making 32 sponsors of the bill ready to vote it into law. There were no legal challenges to the bill and the outcome of hearing disproves the REBNY narrative that the Jobs Act has been collecting dust for 30 years and going nowhere.

On July 23, Gjonaj presented his five solutions, which were a collection of REBNY-created bills that would not save a single small business or job and kept the status quo. All avoided completely addressing the cause of business closings: the lease renewal process.

One example of the disgraceful act of lawmakers’ failure to seriously address the small business crisis with a real solution was a bill from Councilmember Carlina Rivera. Her bill called for Department of Small Business Services to assess the state of storefronts in 20 communities every three years, code for counting empty storefronts and do nothing. Rivera should be ashamed to present this useless legislation while a real solution, the Jobs Act with 29 sponsors sits in committee and would save her district’s businesses. Why in the face of a growing crisis would any lawmaker insult small businesses owners with such a scandalous worthless bill that gave them no rights and would keep the status quo making landlords rich?

There are 75 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in New York City. It would take one hour for SBS to require each BID to count their empty storefronts and how long they were empty. Why wouldn’t every council member that is a board member on a BID also know the state of the empty stores? When long established businesses were forced to close in record numbers and storefronts remained empty for years, why didn’t they do something to stop the closings?

The time for disingenuous supporting the Jobs Act while at the same time being complicit to the rigging by special interests to stop it is over. New Yorkers who demand good government and want an end to the closing of their favorite mom-and-pop businesses must demand their lawmakers address the small business crisis with a real solution that gives rights to the long established business owners when their leases expire.

If former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn had allowed democracy to work, the Jobs Act would have easily passed long ago and we would not have the crisis or empty stores today. Will Speaker Johnson allow democracy to return to City Hall? Or will the norm at City Hall be total control of economic policy by REBNY and lawmakers continue to do nothing? The delay and distractions will continue until the 2019 fully-vetted and legally-sound Jobs Act is passed.

9 thoughts on “Opinion: Lawmakers: stand up to real estate

  1. In the face of the small business crisis growing out of control lawmakers have only two
    choices. Either pass the Jobs Act and give rights to small business owners needed to negotiate fair lease terms. Or continue the political theater orchestrated by REBNY of fake studies, worthless bill and insulting initiatives which are all created to keep the status quo.

    • I think our local politicians have made it quite clear where they stand, and it is not with small businesses. And to think, one of them even ran on the platform that his father was a small business owner – what a sham that turned out to be.

  2. When one thinks of the failure & de facto complicity that has been demonstrated by someone-i.e. Speaker Corey Johnson-who is running to be Mayor -while engineering this masquerade of ‘concern’ and ‘research’ and ‘hearings’…the only conclusion to be had is that not unlike his predecessors-this is another pol kissing the ring of the REBNY/Big Real Estate mobsters that run our city. More of the same…is this really what New Yorkers want???

    People of good will must embrace their local shopkeepers who’ve been bombarded with phony ‘Business Improvement District’ (BID) levies added as another tax…overwhelmed by speculator landlords & developers that are warehousing their properties for the next Starbucks or McDonald’s high-price renters…and demand that their two-timing Council Members claiming to be their ‘representatives’-who promise the world and screw anyone who hasn’t bought them-yes, demand that they pass the comprehensive Small Business Jobs Survival Act-OR-they will not get your vote.

    Time to show up & speak up is overdue. We’ve been had.

  3. This is pretty disgraceful that City Hall is continuing to block this bill from being voted on. People living in the city want to save their neighborhood stores, why not just vote on it? If you are uncertain if REBNY is running City Hall:

    “Democratic Council Speaker Corey Johnson attended at least 52 events where he was able to interact with nearly 70 lobbyists during his first three months in the powerful perch, records show.
    Twenty talks took place in the speaker’s office, and most of his lobbyist meetings focused on real estate and labor, a Post analysis found.”

    https://nypost.com/2018/08/25/corey-johnson-met-with-dozens-of-lobbyists-in-first-months-as-speaker/

  4. The abuses throughout history by giant landholders of those who work or rent their properties is a dismal story thousands of years old. Serfdom and slavery were just part of it. However, didn’t this all stop with the great historial movements of “The Enlightenment” — the American Revolution gloriously among them? Sadly I’m sorry to say, the answer here is “not quite”. As more and more of our mom and pop shops whither and die, leaving some avenues in our city looking forelorn like a looming ghost town, REBNY ( the real estate billionaires of New York) continue to keep their deadly stranglehold on the city through endless contributions to politicians large and small, giving cover and protection, not only to rent gouging but also to the actual “criminal extrotions” of struggling shop keepers as documented in former hearings in the City Council. Only one thing can stop this and that’s the immediate passage of the Small Business Survival Act. But REBNY’s sheer greed, I’m afraid, is trumping any common decency here and whatever’s left of “The Enlightenment” and our local democracy.

  5. This is correct and clear that City Hall is REBNY Hall. The distractions of alternative legislative bills to address the CRISIS must all simply answer the question will they stop the closings? Of course the answer is NO! Will they put fairness into the unfair lease renewal process by at least giving tenants some rights, where currently they have none? Answer is No. Will they save one job lost? NO! Will they improve upon the Jobs Act, the most vetted reviewed and amended seven times bill? No they have not and they have not come forward with anything better. All the rest of their actions are distractions and delay as more businesses close on main streets across the five boroughs. Shame on this REBNY Hall display of “look over here” while the CRISIS only gets worse. The SOLUTION sits in the Jobs Act and the Speaker can continue the rigging or PASS THE Jobs Act now!

  6. My organization has worked diligently with numerous other groups to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA/Jobs Act) to finally give commercial tenants, and especially small businesses, some rights during lease renewal so they can’t be extorted and price-gouged out of existence. Last October, the Daily News published my op-ed “Fight the real-estate power,” on the same day that the City Council held hearings on the bill.

    In it I described how John Banks, president of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), who was recently dumped by REBNY, ramped up REBNY’s propaganda by lying and falsely describing the SBJSA as a “rent control Bill” in order to confuse legislators and the public. REBNY even bussed in its minions to the hearing wearing silly looking hats stating, “VOTE NO Commercial Rent Control.”

    REBNY, which has been appropriately dubbed Real Estate Bullies of New York ravaging every borough of New York City, is able to run roughshod over New Yorkers and its small businesses because Mayor de Blasio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Economic Development Corporation and City Department of Planning are all shilling for the super wealthy developers, property speculators and landlords at the expense of the small businesses which are the backbone of a vibrant local economy and give our neighborhoods character.

    Billionaire businessmen heading REBNY, like Bill Rudin, Stephen Ross, Rob Speyer and Gary Barnett, are turning New York City into REBNYville, a place known for slumlords, homelessness, mass evictions and displacement, empty storefronts, dilapidated public housing, warehoused buildings, bulldozed neighborhoods, super-tall skyscrapers, lack of affordable housing, union-busting, corporate criminality, construction worker fatalities, massive corporate welfare and political corruption.

    If you consider the larger picture of what is at stake for our city’s economy and the health and vitality of all residents, you will understand why REBNY and many of the landlords it represents are so terrified of this bill. Making this legislation the law of New York City will mean the transfer of billions of dollars in money, and the power that goes with it, from super-wealthy property speculators, developers and landlords to small businesses, their employees and the local economy. Entrenched power is afraid of that possibility. Everyone else should welcome it!
    Ray Rogers, Campaign to Stop REBNY Bullies, http://www.stopREBNYbullies.org

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