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.

Council pushing pied-à-terre tax

State Senator Brad Hoylman discusses his legislation in Albany, which the Council is now actively supporting. (Pictured with Hoylman) Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, Council Member Mark Levine and Assembly Member Deborah Glick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A few weeks after an out-of-state hedge fund billionaire purchased a $238 million penthouse apartment on Central Park South, two City Council members have introduced a resolution in support of a pied-à-terre tax.

Currently, in New York, non-residents are not subject to state or city income taxes and do not pay New York sales tax while outside the state. The proposed tax, which would affect homes that cost over $5 million if they’re not the owners’ primary residences, isn’t new. It was first introduced in 2014 by State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Deborah Glick. However, with Senate Democrats now in the majority in Albany, it has a better chance at getting passed this year than ever before.

The City Council resolution was essentially a show of support for the tax, made by Members Mark Levine and Margaret Chin. At a press conference in front of City Hall on Monday, Levine and other Manhattan lawmakers argued that such real estate investments by out-of-state and foreign buyers are keeping buildings dark while the city gets done out of badly needed revenue.

“It’s a surcharge on property tax, so we can capture taxes from people who don’t really live here,” added Glick, who was also at City Hall.

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Brewer: Retail blight ‘worse than I thought’

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (pictured at a recent press conference on the Commercial Rent Tax reform bill) conducted a foot patrol study of vacant storefronts along Broadway. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Two Sundays ago, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, with the help of nearly three dozen volunteers, walked along the length of Broadway in Manhattan, taking note of every vacant storefront they passed. The exercise was for a study on retail blight conducted by Brewer’s office, the results of which were not pretty.

In fact, said Brewer, who strolled a strip from the 60s to the 70s, “It was worse than I thought.”

Along her way, she observed five empty storefronts in a two block radius. “I don’t know how long they’ve been empty,” she said.

She chose Broadway as the street to monitor due to it being a part of so many different neighborhoods. Additionally, from what she’s seen the problem doesn’t appear to be more prolific in some neighborhoods than others.

“In Manhattan, it’s everywhere,” she said.

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Protesters mourn loss of affordable housing

Tenant activists gather outside an event held by the Real Estate Board of New York. (Photo courtesy of Faith in New York)

By Sabina Mollot

A group of tenant activists, dressed in black, disrupted a real estate industry luncheon in midtown last Wednesday to mourn the loss of affordable housing in the city. One of the groups organizing the effort was Faith in New York along with Tenants and Neighbors, the latter of whom have a tradition of protesting at events held by the Real Estate Board of New York.

“REBNY has led the charge for pro-gentrification and pro-displacement policies across New York for decades,” Katie Goldstein, executive director of Tenants & Neighbors later said in a written statement. “We are here standing with faith leaders and tenants across New York to mourn the death of affordable housing as we actively organize against REBNY’s policies and practices.”

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