Council Member Dan Garodnick, standing next to the bill’s co-sponsor Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
On Monday, Manhattan politicians and small business advocates gathered on the steps of City Hall to push the Commercial Rent Tax reform bill sponsored by Council Members Dan Garodnick and Helen Rosenthal.
This was the third public announcement in recent months about the bill, which so far the mayor hasn’t committed to supporting.
Garodnick said at this point, the Council has had a hearing on the CRT bill and although there’s been no vote yet, 38 of his colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors. Asked why there hasn’t been a vote, Garodnick said Council members usually first want to know if the mayor “will support it rather than veto it.”
Rosenthal later said, “We are optimistic that he will embrace it.”
City Council Members Dan Garodnick and Helen Rosenthal have been doggedly pushing a bill that if passed would give some relief to many of the Manhattan retailers who are forced to pay Commercial Rent Tax. The tax, they’ve argued, is discriminatory as it punishes retailers and restaurants for the crime of doing business below 96th Street and above Chambers. We have to say, we agree it’s obviously unfair, and we hope the legislation doesn’t face any obstacles in getting signed.
However, as any Manhattan storefronter can attest to, taxes are just the tip of the iceberg. Amazon is an ever-present competitor and the rent is too damn high with commercial tenants not having much in the way of bargaining power when it’s lease renewal time.
Rosenthal, following the press conference that was held for the CRT bill, said the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which is aimed at giving business owners an automatic ten-year lease renewal, is being looked at by the council’s counsel. The legislation has been languishing for decades though recently it has gained steam as neighbors have grown weary of seeing their local small businesses get pushed out by chains.
Council Member Helen Rosenthal at an anti-Airbnb rally earlier this year
By Sabina Mollot
Last week, thousands of tenants enrolled in SCRIE/DRIE rent increase subsidy programs learned that their benefits may end up getting reduced or eliminated altogether. The notification came by way of letters from the Department of Finance to around 5,700 people.
The programs subsidize rent increases that are faced by seniors and disabled people, respectively, who are making under $50,000 and whose rent takes up a third of their incomes.
The benefits however could expire when they attempt to renew them, according to Upper West Side City Council Member Helen Rosenthal who said last week she was approached by numerous concerned tenants who didn’t know what the letters they’d received meant.
Those letters have since been blasted by Rosenthal as being full of “technical jargon” with little detail, and she and a few other Council members have called on the Department of Finance to rescind them and not send any more until January, 2016. A moratorium, she explained, would give tenants time to plan for any changes.
Additionally, “We’re trying to understand what it means as well,” said Rosenthal of herself and her Council colleagues.
When she asked the Department of Finance why they were sent, she said she was told that previously there hadn’t been a mechanism to track whether or not recipients’ incomes were in fact one third of their rent, and now there is.
With many people enrolled in both programs living on fixed incomes, Rosenthal called the potential hikes, which she said on average would be $86, significant.