Gotham Gazette Thu, 01 Oct 2020 08:22:15 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Black Business Owners Hang On Through Covid Crisis as Black Lives Matter Movement Surges 3 restaurant melba

Mayor de Blasio & Chirlane McCray dine at Melba's in Harlem (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Miriam Milord, the Black owner of BCakeNY in Brooklyn, had to completely reimagine her custom dessert business when the coronavirus pandemic hit New York. She usually served events of around 75 to 100 people, but, with social distancing guidelines, customers cancelled those gatherings. All of her orders disappeared.

“So that stopped, you know, from one day to the next pretty much,” said Milord. “So not only were we not selling cakes, we also were actually returning deposits.”

Milord is one of many Black small-business owners in New York City who have faced unique challenges because of COVID-19, but also experienced new waves of support with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Although 2.2 million small businesses operate in the city, only 2 percent of businesses of any size are Black-owned, according to city and federal government data.

Small businesses have faced immense challenges because of mandated pandemic-related closures like lost revenue, laid-off staff, and access to funds. But Black-owned businesses, according to a recent report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have lower revenues, hire fewer employees, and are more vulnerable to a crisis like COVID-19, on average, than their white counterparts. 

The city, state, and federal governments, local chambers of commerce, and other entities have implemented a range of policies, grants, loan programs, and other services to help small businesses during COVID-19, including targeted programs for Black-owned businesses. These solutions have met varying degrees of success, with some Black business owners leaning on aid and others struggling to access it, leading some entrepreneurs to use other strategies to stay afloat.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce report says 95 percent of Black-owned businesses in the U.S. are sole proprietorships with no paid employees, compared to about 70 percent of white-owned businesses that have no paid employees. Black entrepreneurs are also almost three times more likely than white entrepreneurs to have their business impacted by a lack of capital. Lower family wealth overall means Black entrepreneurs have a harder time accessing personal and family savings to start a business. The report also says lack of “human capital,” or experience and mentorship, also discourages the creation of Black-owned businesses.

As the pandemic unfolded, 41 percent of Black-owned businesses nationwide closed in April, compared to 17 percent of white-owned ones, according to a study by the University of Santa Cruz. In a July MWBE report conducted by the office of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, 85 percent of minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBEs) said they could not survive for six more months.

Many Black business owners have welcomed extra sales from those involved in or supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. Milord said she lost more than half her staff in the first few days of the city shutdown, although the city allowed her to stay open because she sold food.

With her remaining employees, Milord said she changed her business concept so her customers could design from home and shifted the sizing options for her desserts to accommodate smaller groups, like two-person weddings. With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, she said she sees more support on social media and remains optimistic that new customers will return.

“We received a lot of genuine support as well, just people ordering a cake, like when you put your money where your mouth is, you’re actually really supporting,” said Milord. “I think everyone’s temporary discomfort can result in a lot of growth and good for everyone.”

Government Policies and Aid
The city, state, and federal governments have passed several policies and started many loan programs aimed at small businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.

At the end of March, Mayor Bill de Blasio initiated a small business relief program in a public-private partnership between Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, Tapestry Inc.'s Coach Foundation, and Pursuit that would provide loans of up to $75,000, according to a press release from the mayor’s office. Due to overwhelming demand, the fund stopped accepting applications. According to the July report by the city comptroller’s office, only 40 MWBEs applied for the New York City Business Continuity Loan, of which just six were approved.

The most sweeping small-business survival program during the coronavirus crisis has come from the federal government in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), launched on April 3 by the U.S. Small Business Administration and implemented in two phases for a total of almost $660 billion. The PPP aims to help small businesses stay open and keep their employees on payroll, though it, along with other federal measures, did not prevent millions from losing their jobs due to the pandemic recession.

Although the PPP has helped more than 300,000 small businesses in New York State, according to SBA data, others struggle to access it, especially Black entrepreneurs. Small, Black-owned businesses frequently lack a human resources manager or administrator beyond the owner to gather extensive paperwork in a short period of time.

Mikey Cole, owner of Mikey Likes It Ice Cream in Harlem and the Lower East Side, said he lacked guidance on how to apply and is currently on the waiting list for the loan.

“If someone tells you, ‘Hey we gave you this fund to help your business survive’ but then you have to come up and show a mountain of information,” said Cole, “it’s like, how do you expect us to get all these records all at once so fast?”

Some business owners who have received the PPP, while grateful for the money, said they felt confused on how to spend it to obtain loan forgiveness, especially with changing guidelines. A bill approved by Congress in the first week of June changed the spending period for forgiveness from a mandatory eight weeks to an optional eight weeks or 24 weeks and lowered the amount that had to be spent on payroll from 75 percent to 60 percent. It also extended the period a business owner could rehire staff.

As of June 30, about $130 million in nationwide PPP funding remains unallocated, according to a new report by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Locally, the New York City Council passed several bills on May 13 to aid small businesses, like capping fees from third-party food delivery apps, suspending indoor and outdoor cafe fees, prohibiting threats from landlords to commercial tenants, halting enforcement of personal liability provisions in commercial leases or rental agreements, and delaying renewal requirements for licenses and permits from city agencies during the duration of the emergency.

Deputy Mayor of Strategic Policies Initiatives and Co-Chair of the mayor’s Racial Inclusion and Equity Task Force J. Phillip Thompson said small businesses owned by people of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and are among those most struggling to survive.

“The bills signed today will give small business owners in our hardest-hit communities the support they need to get through this pandemic, and help ensure a fair and equitable recovery in New York City,” Thompson said when de Blasio signed the legislation into law on May 26.

On May 22, exactly two months after the state ‘shutdown,’ Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the $100 million New York Forward Loan Fund, which provides flexible and affordable loans for small businesses, especially for those owned by people of color and women (often referred to as MWBEs, or women- and minority-owned business enterprises).

“Minority-owned businesses face a far greater risk and have received less in federal relief,” Cuomo said during a briefing. “We're going to focus on MWBEs that did not receive federal assistance and focus on really small businesses.” The state assigned five community development financial institutions to start reviewing applications on June 1, and they will distribute funds on a rolling basis, according to the Empire State Development website.

The city’s Department of Small Business Services, or SBS, oversees various economic initiatives for entrepreneurs across the five boroughs. When the city entered phase one of reopening under state guidelines on June 8, SBS also released new resources that included a small business hotline, digital resource fairs, face covering distribution sites, and plain language industry guides that relay mandatory guidelines and best practices.

The mayor started the Small Business Emergency Grant Program on June 4 with $500,000 of initial funds from SOMOS Community Care. The grant provides up to $10,000 to small businesses, with a focus on MWBEs, as well as those with less than $1.5 million in annual revenue, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

On June 11, de Blasio announced Signature Bank would donate $750,000 in funds to the grant to further support small business owners across the five boroughs who experienced damage to their storefronts during recent looting. The program was to start in the Bronx, which saw one night of looting in a concentrated area home to many MWBEs.

The same day, de Blasio also initiated the Restaurant Revitalization Program. The plan provides restaurants with short-term payroll support for restaurants, up to $30,000 each to pay subsidized employees wages of at $20 an hour for at least six weeks, according to a press release. The statement also says it prioritizes the city’s hardest hit communities as well as those restaurants that commit to paying the minimum wage with tips on top and race and gender equity among employees within three to five years. The mayor also announced a collaboration with the advocacy organization One Fair Wage for the launch of the High Road Kitchens program in the city, which made $1 million available for local restaurants with up to $35,000 per establishment, according to the press release.

On June 18, Mayor de Blasio signed an executive order easing sidewalk cafe laws and rules, and encouraged business owners to self-certify through the city’s new Open Restaurants program, allowing more outdoor dining as the city eased some restrictions.

Melba Wilson, owner of Melba’s Restaurant in Harlem and the board president of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, a trade advocacy group, said she always wanted to have tables outside but the process seemed too taxing before the mayor’s executive order.

“It literally took us all of four minutes to self-certify,” said Wilson. “And you know, nothing really happens that quickly with the city, right?”

Wilson’s restaurant became the first recipient of the DineOut NYC program, a partnership between David Rockwell’s Rockwell Group and the NYC Hospitality Alliance to build pro bono outdoor seating. DineOut NYC will create outside arrangements for four other Black-owned restaurants, one in every other borough, according to Wilson.

Mayor de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, tested out the new sidewalk seating at Melba’s by eating outdoors, right after the city entered phase two of reopening, which allowed restaurants outdoor dining on top of the takeout and delivery they had been allowed to continue throughout the shutdown.

Chambers of Commerce
Local chambers of commerce can serve as on-the-ground conduits for businesses to access resources, and some of the five borough-based chambers have especially focused on Black-owned businesses during the current crisis. Chambers help provide financing, connect members to each other, answer questions about running a company and provide other services. Several chambers reported they’ve employed an adaption of their “Chamber on the Go” program during the pandemic.

The program usually involves an on-site assessment of a member’s business to recommend SBS, chamber, and local resources or instantly provide support, but some have shifted to phone calls to survey their members’ needs.

After monitoring their businesses, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, which serves the borough with the most Black businesses according to the Center for an Urban Future, launched their Bring Back Brooklyn Fund in April. The initiative provides no-interest loans of up to $30,000. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce earmarked 65 percent of the money towards MWBEs, according to a press release.

The chamber found in an April survey that 90 percent of Brooklyn MWBEs had not received funding from the federal PPP. By the end of June, the chamber raised almost $230,000, according to a press release, and as of this past week, four small businesses received a total of $28,000 in funding, said Tondalaya London, Vice President of Business Services at the Brooklyn Chamber.

Many small businesses have also faced difficulty in rehiring employees. Owners have said their staff feel unsafe returning to work or want to continue collecting unemployment, which sometimes pays them more than their job had. The current pandemic unemployment compensation includes an extra $600 a week under the federal CARES Act, which President Trump signed on March 27, and which will last until July 31.

To address workforce issues, the Queens Chamber of Commerce is trying to partner with local colleges, universities, and trade schools to act as a liaison between students or recent graduates who need jobs and small businesses who need employees, according to President and CEO Tom Grech. He said that of the QCC’s 1,150 members, about 90 percent have fewer than 10 workers.

“I think the chamber, and we, have a moral imperative to retrain all those folks who have lost their jobs,” Grech said. “Now it’s time to really work together. The new normal is not whatever the normal was in the past, right?”

As small businesses push further into phase three of reopening, they may need to adjust their operations to survive through the pandemic. The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce announced their “Pivot to Win” program at the end of June, which will offer small and medium-sized businesses support through webinars, training sessions, large-scale marketing efforts, connections to corporate suppliers and vendors, and time with expert mentors that will help them rethink their business model.

Chamber President and CEO Jessica Walker said the program will especially target Black-owned businesses and other minority-owned firms.

“Right now, we need to help businesses through the long haul,” said Walker. “So really what we’re trying to do is provide resources that a lot of big companies have and make sure small businesses are empowered to really run an efficient, profitable, competitive business. I do think there’s so much creativity that has not been tapped or maximized.”

Business Adaptations
Black small-business owners have had to adapt to the setbacks all small businesses are facing right now during COVID-19, but also confront their own set of challenges. Small businesses in the city have dealt with drops in revenue and staff as well as less access to loans or grants. But Black-owned small businesses have also contended, historically, with less financial capital than their white counterparts, less of a savings cushion to fall back on, and a greater lasting impact on their communities from disasters, according to the 2020 report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Without the PPP, Cole implemented different ways of selling his ice cream that focused on the close community bonds he has formed over the years. He said he prepackaged pints of ice cream for pick-up, and would also personally deliver his product to his customers.

“As the weekend came I would jump in the vehicle and deliver the stuff myself,” said Cole. “People were happy like, ‘Wow, Mikey, it’s actually you!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna give you the scoop, it’s gonna be just like how it is when you’re in the store.’”

Wilson, of Melba’s, said she furloughed two-thirds of her staff and lost 85 percent of her revenue within the first few weeks of closing her comfort-food eatery. She now manages to make 75 percent of what she once did before COVID-19, but that means expanding service by six hours, increasing social media outreach, creating new family-style food packages, and introducing liquor takeout (made legal during the pandemic), she said.

“We had to be creative,” said Wilson. “We had to pivot and I think that’s what you do, when times are different, you have to pivot.”

Business owners are also banding together to convince the government to implement policies that lessen the challenges caused by the coronavirus. The NYC Hospitality Alliance, a non-profit organization representing restaurant and nightlife establishments, pushed for the simplified sidewalk cafe process, the cap on delivery fees through third-party food delivery apps, and takeout alcohol, according to Karl Franz, board member of the Alliance and owner of the Harlem cocktail bar 67 Orange Street.

With the Black Lives Matter resurgence, Franz said the Alliance is also focusing on finding access and recognition opportunities for Black business owners, including connections to capital, awards, and media exposure.

Black Lives Matter’s Influence
As Black-owned small businesses grapple with a string of challenges, they also feel the effects of the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests have heightened calls for racial justice and have also ushered an influx of support for Black-owned businesses. Social media posts, articles, and online spreadsheets have lifted word of local and online Black companies where people can spend their dollars. Crowd-sourced tools like Shop Black Owned by Coast, a workplace productivity app company, and Janet Gardner, a copywriter and creative strategist, have mapped businesses in the city for consumers to locate potential places to shop.

Milord said she saw an increase in new customers ordering her custom cakes.

“I definitely feel like we had calls and emails from people who usually wouldn’t call and email,” said Milord. “So overall I think it’s great. Obviously, there’s lots of work to do but I definitely appreciate progress.”

While anecdotally Black entrepreneurs have noticed a boost in customers, it remains difficult to quantify. According to Franz, at the end of May, 67 Orange Street generated 40 percent of its usual revenue. By the end of June, that number increased to 66 percent, but this rise may be attributable to a variety of factors, such as Franz’s use of his PPP and EIDL funds, phase two of reopening, or new government policies, not only Black Lives Matter supporters’ consumerism.

However, other products, such as books, are easier to link to Black Lives Matter’s influence. Wilson said all of her cookbooks sold out, which she attributes to the lists of Black entrepreneurs shared online. (Broadly, books related to Black Lives Matter, race, and similar themes have been selling in large numbers through many avenues and by several metrics.)

While business owners generally welcome the support, they feel wary of its sustainability. Milord said stores like hers have existed for years, and she questions whether new supporters will treat buying from Black-owned businesses as a short trend or a more permanent habit. Others like Cole said while many do come in with the intent of supporting the cause, the quality of his ice cream will compel them to return.

“I love it if someone comes in and says ‘Is this Black-owned?’” said Cole. “But at the end of the day, what did you come here for? You came here for some good ice cream? Just come and see if we have good ice cream. Let the product speak for itself.”

Phase Three Moves Ahead
Although the city has now moved into phase three of reopening, which opened nail salons, massage centers, spa salons, tanning salons, and tattoo shops, Black entrepreneurs must still address new and ongoing setbacks.

While many restaurants implemented outdoor dining options during phase two, sidewalk seating offers less room for customers than usual. After seeing the apparent negative impact of indoor dining on coronavirus infection rates in other states, de Blasio and Cuomo decided to delay it indefinitely in the city to prevent an increase in COVID-19 cases. 

“If you open your eyes, you see the citizen compliance slipping. You see government compliance not correcting it,” said Cuomo during a July 1 briefing. “What's going to happen? The virus is going to spread.”

De Blasio decided to try to alleviate some of the impact of this decision last week by introducing 22 new locations designated for further expanded outdoor dining. This initiative combines the Open Streets and Open Restaurants programs and will extend restaurant seating onto car-free streets throughout the five boroughs, according to a July 2 press release.

“I hope to see this program expand in the coming days to areas in Brooklyn that have not historically been prioritized for safe streets and economic development initiatives, like East New York and Canarsie,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

Rent also poses an immense challenge to Black business owners. In a June 2020 survey by the NYC Hospitality Alliance, almost three-fourths of landlords did not waive rent in relation to COVID-19, but only a fifth of respondents reported paying their full rent. Franz said more people have started to pay attention to the economic disparities that always existed in Black communities now that COVID-19 has devastated them.

“It’s increasing the awareness of things that, if you’re a Black or brown entrepreneur, you knew all along, you’ve been yelling about all along,” said Franz. “Just like George Floyd revealed the reality of what policing in Black communities is really like, the reality is, when you look at the economic disparities that exist in Black communities, the fact that you have these things happening makes a lot more sense.”  

Franz said he wants to see the city and state eliminate interest on all past tax-related debt, which he has seen burden Black-owned businesses because of lack of funding, and provide access to capital for struggling businesses with the fewest strings attached.

Along with rent, Black business owners in particular have spoken out against what they see as racially discriminatory enforcement. Borough President Adams joined Bronx City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, The Black Institute, and Black and brown business owners on July 3 to demand a halt to what they called “overly punitive enforcement on Black and Brown businesses” by the NYPD, the New York State Liquor Authority, and other city and state entities, according to a press release from Adams’ office. Business owners spoke out against steep fines, required changes to a business’s method of operation like shorter hours, and liquor license revocations.

“I am calling for an immediate moratorium on the issuance of summonses and violations except in egregious circumstances, and for the New York Attorney General’s office to immediately conduct an investigation into whether this enforcement is being applied in a racially discriminatory manner,” said Adams.

Another issue that disproportionately affects Black and other minority-owned businesses is contract procurement. Through June 18, the city has registered over $3 billion in contracts to businesses to address the COVID-19 crisis, including for food, personal protective equipment, temporary staffing, technology, medical supplies, and building testing centers, according to Comptroller Stringer’s office. In its July MWBE report, the comptroller’s office found that although 325 of the 500 MWBEs surveyed said they were ready and able to receive these city contracts, only 62 could compete due to what the comptroller’s office called “onerous restrictions and non-responsiveness from the City.” Only 10 of those who competed received contracts, according to the survey.

While more businesses can reopen, owners must still secure PPE for their workers. SBS offers small businesses five face masks per employee through partner organizations throughout the five boroughs, according to their website. They also created a list of non-medical PPE manufacturers and suppliers if companies want to buy additional PPE.

Chambers of commerce have also stepped up to provide PPE. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce found in a June survey that nearly half of MWBEs in the borough lacked PPE, although 70 percent would reopen. The chamber partnered with NY Presbyterian and unveiled a $500,000 grant program so businesses could buy masks, gloves, shields, contactless payment devices, and deep cleaning services, according to a June press release. It will source PPE and cleaning services from “local small businesses and vendors, a majority of which are minority, women or immigrant–owned businesses,” the press release said. As of early July, 18 local small businesses have been approved for PPE grants totaling about $25,000, according to BCC Vice President of Business Services London.

Milord interacts with customers behind a shield, a drastic change from sitting down with her clientele to design custom cakes. She said she feels hopeful as people start making plans again.

“In situations like that you learn a lot that you can later implement going forward, so we’re working on that silver lining to take the positive from it,” said Milord. “It’s definitely getting busy again, which is great.”

by Melissa Lent, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Black Business Owners Hang On Through Covid Crisis as Black Lives Matter Movement Surges Sun, 12 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
How to Shop Small This Holiday Season mmv gb sbs

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

The holiday season is upon us and we all know the temptation of online shopping. The ease of getting the things we want at the click of a button might seem harmless, but it has major consequences for local small businesses.

Shopping online takes away from the livelihood of local residents and strips the community of its extraordinary businesses. E-commerce also means you don’t have the ability to inspect your purchases before receipt, you have to go through the hassle of repackaging and returning items you don’t want to keep, and you’re depriving yourself of getting to know the business owners in your neighborhood.

The better way is the smaller way. Shopping small means you’re supporting your community. Small businesses are the backbone of New York’s local economy, with over 230,000 businesses, employing 3.69 million people. Besides contributing to the workforce, small businesses connect communities and help create unique, energetic neighborhoods throughout our city.

As the holiday shopping season approaches, I’m encouraging all New Yorkers to show some love to our small businesses. Here are some ways you can help your local small businesses that extend beyond just your purchasing power:

Participate in Small Business Saturday. Avoid the Black Friday mayhem and shop small on Saturday, November 30.

Pledge Your Shopping List to Your Community. This holiday season make a commitment to buy half of your shopping list from local small businesses. Jewelry, clothing, pottery, and books are all great gifts that can be found in your neighborhood. Consider gifting a “made in New York” basket with your favorite local items. 

Share Small Business Content on Social Media. A great way to support your favorite local businesses is to share their content on social media. It can be as simple as posting a picture on Instagram or checking in on Facebook.

Leave Positive Reviews. While word-of-mouth recommendations are always good for small businesses, it doesn’t hurt to leave positive reviews on Yelp and Google. Leave an online review for small businesses to get more traction and visibility.

Join the fun! Participate in seasonal fun on your block and in your neighborhood, or even in another neighborhood you enjoy or are eager to explore for the first time. From tree-lighting events to local gift guides, get involved and shop small.

While you’re preparing for this busy season, remember to continue supporting the diverse, independent small businesses that enrich neighborhoods across New York City. As we enter this busy holiday season, don’t forget to shop small!

Gregg Bishop is the Commissioner for the New York City Department of Small Business Services. On Twitter at @NYC_SBS and @GreggBishopNYC.

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How to Shop Small This Holiday Season Mon, 25 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
First Mandated Survey of Small Businesses Identifies Problems But City Points to Existing Services bdb rec business

Mayor de Blasio & Council Member Cornegy stop at a small business (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

New York City’s small businesses need more employees but struggle with hiring, and lack the time and resources they need to find and train talent. Their operational costs continue to be a challenge, including the cost of rent, insurance, and utilities. They need more financial support for growth and more assistance to comply with government rules and regulations.

Those are just a few of the findings of a limited and first-of-its-kind survey conducted by the New York City Department of Small Business Services under new laws passed by the City Council in 2017.

As mandated by the law, the survey began in August 2018 and was ongoing when the initial results were published in June of this year (it has since concluded). It was required by a pair of bills, sponsored by City Council Member Robert Cornegy, which also require the city to create a “workforce development plan” based on the survey results.

A total of 543 business owners – out of more than 220,000 in the city – responded to the online survey, according to the 35-page report, outlining the issues they face in running and growing their enterprises. The responses came from across a range of businesses including food service establishments, professional and scientific businesses, construction trades, arts and entertainment, retail, and education, to name a few. About half the respondents were white, while African-American and Hispanic owners accounted for 20% and 15%, respectively.

The report comes as city government officials wrestle with how to help local small businesses amid a changing economy, sky-high costs, especially for rent, an increasing focus on vacant storefronts in the five boroughs, and debate over new mandates that some owners are opposing.

The report acknowledges early on that the sample “is not representative of the city’s business population” because of the relatively small number of responses – on key questions, there were fewer than 200 responses. Nonetheless, the report gets at some of the issues that businesses face in the city. About 42% of respondents said they did not have enough employees to run their business, and more than 60% said they suffered from a lack of tools to recruit employees and meet other pressing needs.

“There's no question that small businesses are facing growing challenges and this survey certainly echoes that,” said Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director at the Center for an Urban Future, a nonpartisan policy group focused on economic opportunity, in a phone interview. Dvorkin said he was disappointed that the study did not contain more holistic data about the city’s small business landscape but did say it generally tracks with CUF’s research on the challenges faced by small businesses.

And he underscored the importance of understanding the problem. Small businesses, he said, “have consistently added jobs every single year since 2000. And as a result...very small businesses with fewer than 20 employees have added more net jobs every year than businesses with more than 500 employees have in New York City.”

About 40% of respondents to the survey said their top need was help in training new employees, while 33% said recruitment was their biggest challenge, and 27% pointed to general human resources management. The respondents said their key qualifications for employees include work ethic (the most-given response), customer service skills, relevant work experience and subject matter familiarity, and punctuality, among others.

But the “plan” accompanying the survey results is sparse on new offerings. The report notes that most of the issues that small businesses face are covered by free services provided by SBS, but points out that about half of the respondents had not availed themselves of those services, requiring more outreach about SBS programs.

The report lists those various services including training and free recruitment services through 18 of the city’s Workforce1 Career Centers, human resources support, financial and free legal assistance, and more. But it focuses more on the need to more broadly educate small businesses about these services rather than providing new ones.

“SBS is always looking to expand the offerings we provide to small businesses and as their needs continue to adapt, our programming teams are working to address each demand,” an SBS spokesperson said in a statement, when asked if the report had prompted any additional services.

Council Member Cornegy was not made available for comment on the initial results of his bills that became law.

Dvorkin said the city needs to do more. He pointed out, as the report notes, that SBS runs a Customized Training program intended to help businesses invest in employee training with grants up to $400,000, which can address the most dire need expressed by business owners in the survey. But that program is only available for businesses that train batches of at least 10 or more employees at once, effectively being out of reach for the 90% of small businesses that have fewer than 10 employees.

“It fundamentally presents a disconnect,” Dvorkin said, insisting that the city should try to expand these services for smaller workforces. “Most small businesses are not ever going to be able to actually access this really effective and really important service that the city provides.”

He did note that there would be considerable costs associated with added services. “You may not be able to scale it up to meet the needs across the entire city without a significant new influx of dollars,” he said. “But I think, to be able to test out the model to see, can this work for companies that are only training five employees or three employees? We won't know until we try.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

First Mandated Survey of Small Businesses Identifies Problems But City Points to Existing Services Mon, 07 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The City is Helping Small Businesses Now More Than Ever bishop mmv nyccouncil

SBS Commissioner Bishop, the author, right (photo: @NYCCouncil)

Earlier this week, an op-ed appeared in Gotham Gazette entitled "How the City Hurts Small Businesses." This column reminded me of a great saying by New York’s late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” The truth is that Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Department of Small Business Services are working every day to support small, neighborhood businesses across the five boroughs. A few facts:

  • Our Small Business Support Center has provided more than 12,000 services to small businesses since its launch last year.
  • Small business fines are down 40% since the mayor took office.
  • Since 2014, we’ve helped small business owners access $169 million in capital to grow their businesses.
  • Restaurants that take advantage of our services open three months faster.
  • We’ve served more than 12,000 foreign-born entrepreneurs.
  • Over the last year alone, we’ve provided nearly 1,500 free, on-site consultations to help small business owners avoid costly fines and penalties.

The City offers these, and many other services because we recognize that part of what makes New York City special is the diverse mix of small businesses that give our neighborhoods character. We care about the local hardware stores, beauty salons, and pizza shops where the owners know your name and are invested in their communities. We are moving government out of the way of small business owners, cutting red tape, providing new legal protections, and leveling the playing field for minority, women, and foreign-born business owners.

Every year, our team at SBS reaches thousands of small businesses through an array of free, accessible services. We help small businesses in every phase of their development as they start, operate, and grow. This support helps small business owners cut costs and boost their bottom lines, offsetting some of the competitive pressures that exist in New York.  

We help small businesses to write business plans as they are starting up, learn how to negotiate a commercial lease, and understand City rules and regulations. We keep them running with free educational resources, legal consultations, and compliance services to avoid costly fines and penalties. And we help small businesses to grow through programs to help them secure financing, sell to the government, and other tailored services for minority, women, and immigrant-owned businesses.

This year SBS also launched a citywide program called Love Your Local, which encourages New Yorkers to share their favorite independent small business through social media and on an interactive map on SBS’ website. So far, over 2,000 businesses were shared for other New Yorkers to discover. In addition to this free publicity, these businesses are eligible to apply for grant funding to help them better compete.

The author of the op-ed also questions the value of the City’s work with Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). At SBS, we provide technical assistance to communities that wish to form a BID. We help make sure that BIDs are accountable and formed through ground-up community engagement. There are BIDs across New York City that are both big and small, providing supplemental sanitation services, merchant organizing, and neighborhood beautification to strengthen existing small businesses. The 74 BIDs that operate across the city include 35 low-to-moderate income neighborhoods and each of them is governed by a locally-controlled nonprofit board of directors.

The daily work of BIDs makes a difference for small businesses and local residents alike. If you drill down and look at the nuts and bolts of what BIDs are doing, it is work that benefits everyone. On an average day, BIDs across the city:

  • Collect 10,800 bags of trash.
  • Remove 233 incidents of graffiti.
  • Distribute 10,036 marketing materials promoting small businesses.
  • Interact with 5,752 visitors who keep shops bustling with activity.

We are proud of the work we are doing each and every day to support stronger businesses and build stronger neighborhoods across the five boroughs. I encourage all small business owners to take advantage of the free services that SBS offers. We can help your business start, operate, and grow, and we are also here to provide assistance to communities that choose to form a BID. More information on our services can be found by visiting our website or by calling 311.

Gregg Bishop is the Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services. On Twitter at @NYC_SBS and @GreggBishopNYC.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

The City is Helping Small Businesses Now More Than Ever Tue, 11 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Part of Rezoning Plan, City Opens New Career Center in East New York bdb espinal town hall

Mayor de Blasio & CM Espinal (photo: Jeffrey Reed for the City Council)

After serving jail time in 2014, Anthony McGlashan, a resident of East New York, Brooklyn, struggled to find employment for three years. While he had a certification from the Anthem Institute in the field of Information Technology, he continued to be rejected by employers due to his lack of experience and his criminal background. McGlashan then turned to one of New York City’s Workforce1 Centers, a city initiative that provides free career services by pairing employers with workers, holding workshops for resume and interview preparation, and other resources to aid the job search.

In August 2015, McGlashan enrolled in Employment Works, a city program designed to match individuals with criminal histories with full-time, permanent positions in an attempt to reduce recidivism. Through workshops and the support of the program, McGlashan was able to secure an IT support position with the State of New York Unified Court System.

“It’s been awhile, it was a struggle,” McGlashan said. “I almost felt like giving up at one time. It was only three years, but it felt much longer than that.”

“The program pushed me to look for a more permanent, full-time position,” he added. “It shows you what you have to do in life to get something, to fight for it. Stay ambitious and determined.”

Those previously involved with the criminal justice system often face significant difficulties when looking for permanent job opportunities. Despite serving their time, a criminal history makes employees much less likely to be hired. To eliminate this type of employment discrimination by employers, New York City passed the Fair Chance Act in October of 2015, forbidding employers from asking for the criminal records of job applicants until a job offer has been made.

To help further break down barriers faced when looking for a job after a conviction, Mayor Bill de Blasio, working with City Council Member Rafael Espinal and Commissioner Gregg Bishop of the Department of Small Business Services (SBS), is opening a new Workforce1 center in East New York, Brooklyn on Monday. The center, part of the East New York Neighborhood Plan that was negotiated by Espinal and the de Blasio administration and passed through the City Council, is tailored to the specific needs of this neighborhood.

East New York has a high percentage of out-of-work, out-of-school youth and individuals with criminal backgrounds, according to the city. As part of the East New York rezoning that passed earlier this year, the career center is the nineteenth such center across the city. It will cost about $700,000 annually to run, according to SBS, with that money coming through a federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act grant. The funding for creating the facility, about $165,000, came from the $276 million allocated for community development in the East New York plan, which encompasses a key stretch of Espinal’s district that will soon be home to new housing, retail, and other development, along with other community services, like a new school. It is an underdeveloped area with high concentrations of poverty and the first neighborhood rezoned under the de Blasio affordable housing plan.

“We are investing in the people of East New York,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement accompanying the announcement of the new workforce center’s opening. “We are committed to providing the training, the education and the job-placements families need to work their way into the middle class.”

Council Member Espinal, who negotiated with the de Blasio administration to pass the multi-faceted, “anti-gentrification” rezoning for his district in April, called the high unemployment rate in Brooklyn, especially in East New York, “unacceptable.”

“The economic disparities in our city that have put a strain on so many New Yorker’s must be addressed,” Espinal said in a statement. “That is why I pushed so hard to secure this Workforce1 Center as part of the East New York Neighborhood Rezoning Plan. After all, a house is not affordable without a job.”

Some of the debate centered on the East New York plan -- and other rezonings being considered around the city -- revolved around the levels of affordability for new rent-stabilized housing in the rezoned area. New housing in East New York will be deeply subsidized by the city, but there are still concerns of displacement. Relatedly, Espinal and others rallied on Saturday against predatory homeowner speculation that has been occurring in the area in anticipation of community improvements and rising property value.

“All New Yorker’s should have access to good paying jobs and the tools they need to secure a bright future for their families,” Espinal said. “I am excited that the center has opened so quickly and look forward to the opportunities it will create for our community.”

Alex Vitale, a Brooklyn College sociology professor, said opening this career center in East New York reflects the mayor’s understanding of the biggest challenge facing young people of color: unemployment.

“High levels of joblessness among these young people is a major contribution to participation in underground economies of drug dealing, property crime, and prostitution,” Vitale said in an email.

While these centers provide job-searching resources, Vitale said the mayor should continue to identify more ways for unemployed youth to get jobs, increasing public and private sector opportunity.

“The question is whether these centers will produce an overall increase in employment or merely rearrange who gets the few jobs that are out there,” Vitale said. “The mayor should also take steps to significantly increase the number of jobs for these young people, through public employment if the private sector is unable or unwilling to do it.”

According to the city, the new East New York center includes partnerships with community-based organizations. Espinal points out that while the unemployment rate continues to drop nationally, it has remained higher in Brooklyn, and it is even higher in East New York.

“A quality career opportunity can be a ticket out of poverty for all New Yorkers, including those who were formerly acquainted with the criminal justice system,” said Bishop, the city’s commissioner of small business services, in a statement. “This career center will be an asset for the entire East New York community.”

by Devin Gannon for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: details of the funding for the career center have been clarified from the original version of this article.

Part of Rezoning Plan, City Opens New Career Center in East New York Sun, 11 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Council Passes Bill to Improve Diversity at Upper Levels of City-Contracted Businesses crowley johnson lean in

Council Member Elizabeth Crowley and colleagues (photo: William Alatriste) 

On Thursday, the City Council approved a bill requiring the Department of Small Business Services to survey and study the gender, ethnic, and racial makeup of executive-level staff and board members of companies that contract with the city. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Members Elizabeth Crowley and Darlene Mealy, came about while the two were co-chairs of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, and is an effort to “promote transparency,” Crowley says, and to gather information needed to make the city’s workplaces more equitable.

“This legislation is not only fair and smart, it promotes opportunity,” Crowley said in a press release following the Council’s vote. “Diversity matters in the corporate world and also impacts the bottom line. Studies have proven that diversity improves financial performance, with greater economic growth, increased productivity and increased profitability. This bill promotes diversity on boards and amongst senior-level staff, which benefits employers and makes a stronger, better New York City.”

Crowley and Mealy worked with organizations that advocate for diversity in the workplace to develop the bill, including Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that promotes inclusive workplaces for women. During the full Council vote, Crowley framed the bill as a means to help achieve greater equity for women in particular, calling the lack of women in board rooms something that is “more than an injustice to women - it’s actually hurting bottom lines.”

Recent studies show “that companies with more diversified boards do in fact yield better returns,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick, chair of the Committee on Economic Development, which unanimously approved the bill Wednesday, during an Oct. 22 hearing. A 2015 study by Credit Suisse found that the presence of at least one woman on the board of directors can make a difference.

“Companies with one woman on the board have seen an average return on equity of 14.1% since 2005, compared to 11.2% for all-male boards,” Garodnick said. “The benefits are clear, which is why the bill is crucial to help us understand how diverse our corporate boards are right now and how the city can create policies to encourage that moving forward.”

Should Mayor Bill de Blasio sign the bill, which he is expected to do, the Department of Small Business Services will be required to create a voluntary survey and have it ready to distribute to proposed city contractors and subcontractors by January 15, 2017. The survey will be distributed along with existing employment reports, and will collect information regarding the selection and employment practices, policies, and procedures related to the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of city-contracted companies’ directors, officers, and other executive-level staff.

By July 1, 2018, the Mayor or a designated agency will need to publish a report on the website of the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) that analyzes the information collected and details companies’ plans for improving diversity in those positions, as well as their efforts to achieve those plans.

The bill is generally viewed as a win-win by Council members involved with the legislation, who say it will help all involved by facilitating diversity and equal opportunity while at the same time increasing the profitability and performance of companies.

While the administration is generally supportive of the bill, concerns have been raised about the onus fulfilling the mandate would put on SBS.

“The intention of this legislation is laudable and in line with the administration's efforts to fight inequality and promote the economic mobility of social inclusion of all New Yorkers,” Andrew Schwartz, then-acting commissioner of SBS said during the Oct. 22 hearing.

However, Schwartz continued, “The proposals would require significant additional work and analysis” and “many businesses may be reluctant to gather and provide this type of information. So the requirement may, in fact, deter some businesses from competing for contracts with the city.”

Additionally, Schwartz said, the new requirement could work against the city’s ongoing efforts to speed up the procurement process, and selecting vendors for contracts based on the diversity of their leadership “could raise issues that conflict with laws governing the city’s procurement process.”

Changes were made to the bill in response to those concerns. Responding to the survey was made voluntary for contractors, the deadline by which SBS must have the survey ready to distribute was extended, as was the date by which the administration has to publish a report analyzing the data collected. Notably, language was added to prohibit agencies from using information obtained by the survey as a basis for any procurement decisions.

“On it’s final version,” Garodnick told Gotham Gazette, “we have seen mostly support. We want to make sure that we encourage board room diversity among all businesses, and this bill will give us an understanding of where we stand.”

by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Council Passes Bill to Improve Diversity at Upper Levels of City-Contracted Businesses Fri, 08 Apr 2016 03:38:05 +0000
Why Don’t We Ever Hear About Commercial Rent Policy? levine small biz

Council Member Levine & co outside an evicted business (photo: @MarkLevineNYC) 

Mid-June, it was a block in Washington Heights that was poised to be the next to close up shop. The landlord, Coltown Properties, looked to evict the mostly Latino-owned stores on the street, which included a barbershop, restaurant, and income tax service. The store proprietors faced the same issue as many other small business owners in New York — there was nothing they could do.

“Collectively, the businesses on this block have been in operation for over 80 years,” local City Council Member Mark Levine said at a press conference on 162nd Street and Broadway. “At a time when unemployment rates in our neighborhood are disproportionately high, these businesses are vital to the economic livelihood of this area.” Levine’s office is partnering with Legal Aid Society to provide legal assistance to small businesses in his district.

This is New York today, the plight of the city’s small businesses is grumpily accepted like a late train. It’s perceived by many New Yorkers as a part of the city grind, the dog-eat-dog, if-you-can-afford-it-here-you-can-afford-it-anywhere reality of a town teeming with opportunity, but becoming evermore competitive - and expensive.

Echoing all too quietly in the halls of both city and state government, the average retail rent in Manhattan has risen 22 percent over the past decade, causing a sprawl of small businesses to relocate or simply close. It is a disease that’s spread to Brooklyn too.

As news and debate over residential rent regulation dominated Albany and New York City over the past several months, what happens on a daily basis to small businesses throughout the city tends to fall by the wayside. Commercial tenants have far less protection against sudden rent increases than residents do, and now, that deficit is playing out in pockets of the city at an increasingly rapid pace. In comes another Chase, next to the new Duane Reade.

Depending on who you ask, the reasons vary as to why elected officials in New York and Albany have acted — or, to some advocates, failed — on reforming commercial rent policy.

“No one is lobbying the state Legislature for commercial rent control, so obviously legislators are not thinking about the issue,” Michael McKee, the treasurer of Tenants PAC, says. “I am not even aware that there is a bill that would provide protections to small businesses.”

As it stands, the only bill in the New York State government that pertains to commercial rent in New York City is the “Small Business Survival Act,” first proposed by Senator Tony Avella of Queens in 2013. It aims to level the playing field between tenant and landlord by mandating arbitration privileges to small businesses. Landlords must follow certain criteria when setting a lease, and the commercial tenant has more time in negotiations. “The current commercial rental market results in unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive leases for the payment of rent for commercial space in New York City,” the bill reads. As of this legislative session, it has not seen a vote.

The more common small business bills that do exist are like the resources offered by the city and state’s economic development agencies: they seek to provide clarity with forms, regulations, and other bureaucratic nuances that come attached to opening and operating a small business in a tax- and rule-heavy state. The same situation stands in the Business Council, the most prominent lobby for businesses in Albany. Providing commercial tenants with some sort of leverage in lease negotiations did not make its 2015 ‘Top Ten Objectives’ list, or the webpage for its subdivision of small businesses. Rejecting a higher minimum wage did, though.

“If there is ever to be any movement on this issue, folks have to organize,” McKee said, talking with Gotham Gazette while he was in the midst of yet another major push to influence tenant rent regulations being set by lawmakers in Albany and the city’s rent guidelines board.

As many can attest, it is especially tough to compete against what is, without a doubt, the most powerful force in New York politics: real estate. This is a business community that spends millions every year on political campaigns; the contributions of one of its biggest entities, the Real Estate Board, made up a tenth of the entire state’s campaign money last election cycle. And that’s just one group.

To James Parrott, the deputy director and chief economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, that wealth of influence explains the radio silence both down- and up-state, among Democrats and Republicans, on an issue that directly threatens real estate hegemony. Reasoning seems to be that if small businesses had more protections against space-seeking developers, it would cut into the pace and profits of the city’s longstanding natural order. Landlords either want to charge more for commercial space or developers want tenants out so they can sell or demolish and build anew.

“The real estate community has always been aggressive in campaign contributions,” Parrott explains. “And, by doing so, they’ve successfully prevented anything that would restrict them.”

This, of course, includes commercial tenant rights. Parrott makes a key point: in a state government where the recently former Speaker of the Assembly and Majority Leader of the State Senate are both indicted for crimes involving real estate’s influence, it’s hard to believe a bill called the Small Business Survival Act would even last a day. Not to mention the probe into the abrupt closing of the Moreland Commission by Governor Andrew Cuomo; an investigation that is specifically looking into tax breaks for huge developers.

City government is not excluded, either, Parrott argues.

The tale of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (better known as the SBJSA) in the City Council is a long yet uneventful one. Basically, the bill — which, in structure, is very similar to its upstate counterpart — has been floating around the chambers of City Hall since 2008. (Last year, Gotham Gazette dove into its reintroduction.) It would let commercial tenants have the right to lease renewal ten years or more. If a landlord wants to raise rent, mediation with the tenant would be mandated, and, if the parties don’t come to an agreement, an arbitrator would make the final decision.

In essence, it is a flexing of New York City’s municipal home rule, which allows the Council to bypass Albany and regulate commercial code on its own turf. Similar proposals have existed in the Council for decades now, but all have met the same fate: failure. No surprise, Parrott says: the power of real estate is as strong in the city as it is upstate, if not stronger. Also, past mayors and council speakers have strongly sided with that community, meaning any bill is unlikely to ever see a vote, and even if passed by Council, likely vetoed.

But, to tenant advocates, this time around offers hope. Finally, they argue, a legislative body and a mayor progressive enough to actually take up the issue. At least on paper.

“Historically, the deference to Albany has served as a smokescreen/distraction for elected city officials to validate their appalling inaction on issues that they, in all actuality, have complete control over,” Kirsten Theodos, a spokesperson for Take Back NYC, a grassroots advocacy group for tenants and subset of the larger group Save NYC, told Gotham Gazette.

Right now, the SBJSA has 19 City Council sponsors in a 51-member boday. Seeing the bill heard at a committee hearing and then brought to a vote is unlikely, and would probably first require a number of additional sponors signing on (Council members can support a bill without co-sponsoring, but sponsorship levels show strength). To land those additional sponsors, Theodos hopes that situations like the eviction of businesses in Washington Heights will shed light on the issue. When asked if Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who endorsed the bill before becoming speaker, would support the bill now, a spokesperson pointed to remarks made by Mark-Viverito to The Villager in late May. She did not provide an endorsement of the bill then, but mentioned an argument that has been repeatedly made by the real estate community in the past: that the SBJSA is illegal.

“The bill gets introduced once the [Council] staff do their due diligence,” the Speaker said. “Then there are hearings to hear from all sides. And then we figure out what the next steps will be — because sometimes options are being explored that legally we don’t have the ability to implement as a city or as a legislative council.”

Last year, in Gotham Gazette, the president of the Real Estate Board, Steven Spinola, called the bill an “unconstitutional intrusion” on property owners. A spokesperson for the Board told me this position hasn’t changed. Essentially, the board believes it is not in the Council’s jurisdiction to regulate commercial tenants. Home rule doesn’t apply here, they say.

Theodos stresses that this is not true; SBJSA would target the negotiations process, she says, and not install commercial rent control. The legal counsel to the Small Business Congress, a coalition of tenant advocates, supported this argument last year, citing Supreme Court decisions that enable local autonomy.

As a member of the City Council, Mayor Bill de Blasio supported the SBJSA, but he has remained relatively mum on the bill since entering his current office. For many advocates, the hope is that he’ll extend the drive that he has recently demonstrated around housing rent regulations in Albany to the parallel issue for small businesses. However, although he was elected on a ‘helping the little guy’ message and a promise to embrace them, small business owners and their allies also worry that his tendency to meet with representatives from the Real Estate Board and other commercial heavyweights threatens his adherence to their cause. Holding an office that naturally attracts real estate interests, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito has also met with REBNY heads. While neither de Blasio nor Mark-Viverito appears especially cozy with real estate titans, neither has pushed directly on the commerical rent issue either.

That isn’t to say nothing has been done by the de Blasio administration to help small business owners since he took office in January of 2014, though. His office’s Department of Small Business Services (SBS) is spending upwards of $27 million to streamline and defuse the regulatory process and, with the Department of Consumer Affairs, made sure that fewer fines are handed out to small businesses that can barely afford rent. More importantly, SBS has rolled out initiatives aimed at providing pro bono legal services to small businesses in lease negotiations; a policy which will soon expand, SBS spokesperson Merideth Weber told Gotham Gazette.

“We are working to roll out additional programs that span the range of supports we can provide including education, assistance, and tools that can help businesses avoid pitfalls in leases, and make the retail market more transparent,” Weber said in a statement.

When asked if the mayor supports SBJSA, Weber responded, “We’re reviewing the bill and this administration is working on a comprehensive plan to ensure that small businesses have the tools and resources they need to compete in an ever-changing marketplace.”

Still, tenant advocates argue that these measures dance around the main issue: that small businesses have no legal powers against immediate evictions or rent gouging. In a hyper-developing environment reaching further into several boroughs, small business owners are often defenseless. With a state government not inclined to act on commercial rent policy in New York City, and a city bill that, for now at least, is on the back burner of the Council agenda, the urgency stressed by owners and advocates doesn’t seem to be resonating here nor there.

Council Member Mark Levine, who spoke out against the eviction of the small businesses on a block in Washington Heights, in his district, says that there are other options that can help stem the tide of closing small businesses. And these, he said, do not necessarily require either a dying bill or a dead government. “Albany is not acting in any domain, really,” he quickly noted.

The city government, Levina argues, could set an example by not renting out its own real estate to chain stores. Also, zoning laws can be regulated in order to prevent chains and encourage small businesses — a policy that Columbia University has undertaken in Morningside Heights, Levine said. He added that the city should look into preventing developers who receive city subsidies from renting out to chains.

One of the 19 sponsors of the SBJSA, Levine argues that the city needs to set out a structure in which commercial tenants can have enough time whereby they are properly notified of a lease change. He also referred to a bill recently introduced by Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Dan Garodnick that would raise the commercial rent tax exemption in Manhattan (below 96th Street) from $250,000 to $500,000 per year. As of now, the bill has 16 sponsors.

In terms of Albany attention, residential tenants supersede their commercial counterparts in numbers, Levine says, and the politics involved are different. But still, the council member describes challenges faced by small businesses in New York right now as a “crisis;” one that is perhaps even more alarming than the affordable housing problem, given the conditions. “There’s not much a tenant can do,” he says. “Therefore, we’re seeing dramatic changes in our streetscapes, and the scale of the problem is great.”

“It is the mom and pop stores that make this city,” Levine said. “And the city government should be doing much, much more to protect them.”

John Surico is a freelance journalist. His reporting can be seen in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Village Voice, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.

Why Don’t We Ever Hear About Commercial Rent Policy? Wed, 01 Jul 2015 05:01:01 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 22 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

ALBANY, ALBANY: Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie agreed on a short, retroactive extension of rent regulations through Tuesday. As negotiations continue on the rent regulations and other top of the agenda priority issues like mayoral control of city schools, legislators are due back in Albany on Tuesday. By the time they get there, leaders could already have new deals in place. How long will the extended legislative session continue? Unclear. But, it probably won't be long, especially since Senate Republicans are in no rush to get anything else done. It is looking more and more likely that tenants and their Democratic allies will not be seeing a strengthening of the rent laws and are becoming resigned to the idea that a short-term extension of the current regulations might be the best they can do in the current climate. [Read our look at state lawmakers' blowing deadlines to no one's surprise]

Also: this weekend the manhunt for two prisoners who escaped June 6 from an upstate prison zeroed in on a southwestern New York area, Allegany County. The search continues and the situation is fluid.

TRACKING DE BLASIO: Mayor Bill de Blasio is no doubt uneasily watching Albany and in touch with key players in state government - he has said repeatedly of late that his staff is in consistent communication with the governor's office. The mayor is most concerned with the rent laws, mayoral control of city schools, the 421-a tax break, and perhaps a few other key issues related to the city (like the charter school cap and 'raise the age') that may get resolved as the extended session continues.

On Saturday de Blasio delivered remarks at the street renaming ceremony for Detective Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn and then attended and gave remarks at "the #IamAME Rally and Response hosted by the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York [in Queens] to address the unparalleled tragedy at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina this week." De Blasio spoke about racism, terrorism, and the need for stronger gun control laws. On Sunday, de Blasio hosted a press conference in Harlem "to discuss the humanitarian situation concerning Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic."

On Sunday evening, city leaders including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Public Advocate Letitia James, and others were set to gather outside Brooklyn's Barclays Center for a vigil honoring the victims of the Charleston shooting.

On Monday, the mayor will appear on Hot 97 radio at about 7:30 a.m. (read this for some context) and, later in the day, he'll "attend the Department of Education's Renewal Schools Working Session" - all this while he and his team continue to negotiate a final city budget deal with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and her budget negotiating team.

CITY BUDGET WATCH: A fiscal year 2016 deal between the de Blasio administration and the City Council is due before July 1, when the fiscal year begins. Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced they had reached a deal on June 19, and there's good reason to think they could again reach a deal a before the deadline this year - which could mean an announcement this week. Stay tuned!

The big issues still being negotiated include Council requests for additional funding for an additional 1,000 NYPD officers, senior citizen services, libraries, and more.

RIKERS DEAL?: The City and the US Attorney's Office appear close on a deal of reforms at Rikers Island jail complex, incuding a federal monitor to track changes in prisoner treatment and more. There has been more and more scrutiny on both Rikers and related criminal justice issues, like how the bail system works, or doesn't, leading to thousands of people locked up on Rikers who are accused of low-level, non-violent crimes but can't afford the bail set for them.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

The fourth and final public meeting of the Fast Food Wage Board called by Gov. Cuomo, through his labor department, will be at 10 a.m. Monday in the Legislative Office Building at Albany (and webcast live). "The Wage Board's recommendations are expected by July, and the commissioner will then have 45 days from its receipt to issue an order."

Opposing views: The Business Council of New York State will "submit formal comments, and testify in person, at the June 22 meeting in Albany, NY." The Business Council first announced its objections to the fast food Wage Board on June 5. Meanwhile, hundreds of $15 per hour supporters, including fast food workers and their families, elected officials including State Senator Neil Breslin, and others will hold a 9:30 a.m. press conference at the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will be one of the commencement speakers at the Young Women's Leadership School of Brooklyn's first graduating class' commencement.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday in Garden City, New York, "Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will announce the start of a statewide advertising campaign to educate consumers about how to protect themselves against mortgage rescue scams."

Monday morning Council Member Costa Constantinides, Public Advocate Letitia James, and others will be holding a press conference urging a management company to make repairs on the lack of gas and hot water at a co-op complex in Astoria.

Monday at the City Council:

  • At 9:30 a.m. the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss three land use applications.
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Youth Services will meet to have an oversight hearing on how to better address the issue of youth violence.
  • At 11 a.m. the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet to discuss three landmark land use applications.
  • At noon, the Committees on Higher Education, Community Development, Youth Services and Immigration will have a joint meeting to discuss how New York City is doing on educating its adult immigrant community.
  • At 1 p.m. the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will have a meeting to discuss two land use applications.

On Monday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at a 5th grade graduation ceremony at 9:30 a.m. and in the evening, at 7:30 p.m., he'll accept an award at the Council of Jewish Organizations of Staten Island 48th Annual Dinner and Awards Reception.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday there will be a public meeting of the Contracts Committee of the Panel for Educational Policy. The Contracts Committee meets before the Panel for Educational Policy meetings to "review specific contract items that are presented for review and approval."

Monday evening, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer "speaks at the LGBT Community Center's 32nd annual garden party kick-off for Pride Week."

On Monday a "Town Hall for Immigrant Businesses" will be held in Flushing, Queens by the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit starting at 6 p.m. Speakers will include Commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services, Maria Torres-Springer; Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs, Amit Bagga; and Magda Desdunes from the Department of Health.

At 8 p.m. Monday in front of the Queens Museum, "Borough President Melinda Katz, District Attorney Richard A. Brown, elected officials, community leaders and advocates will host a borough-wide interfaith prayer vigil for the victims of the Charleston massacre and a lighting ceremony in solidarity with New York State gun violence awareness efforts. The ceremony will include a reading of names of New Yorkers in Queens lost to gun violence. Every night from June 22 through June 30 in "The World's Borough", the front exterior of the Queens Museum will be illuminated in orange, the official color of Gun Violence Awareness Month, and will be visible by all motorists along the stretch of the Grand Central Parkway in front of the Museum (approximately 168,000 motorists daily on average)."

The state Legislature is due back in Albany on Tuesday, which is when the brief retroactive rent laws extender will expire. Will there be deals in place by Tuesday whereby votes are a formality or will there still much negotiating to do?

On Tuesday at 10 a.m., the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission will be holding a public hearing and might vote on designation of the Stonewall Inn at 51-53 Christopher Street. It would be the first "LGBT landmark" in New York City.

Tuesday at the City Council:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Civil Service and Labor will have a meeting to discuss the establishment of a retirement security review board to study and report on recommendations for the city to establish a retirement security program for private sector workers.
  • Also at 10 a.m. the Committee on Public Safety and the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services will have a joint meeting to discuss a bill that "would create the office of drug strategy to provide strategic leadership to coordinate a public health and safety approach to address problems associated to drug use and redresses the harms associated with past and current drug use." In addition, the committees will discuss examining NYC's response to heroin use and overdoses as well as a resolution recognizing and honoring the 25th anniversary of the 7/26/90 signing of "The Americans with Disabilities Act" of 1990.

On Tuesday at 1 p.m. the New York City Bar and Public Advocate Letitia James will host a program, "Policing Technology in New York City: Privacy, Law, and the Future," to discuss the technological advancements made available to New York City law enforcement and the importance of oversight and safety. Speakers will include Lawrence Byrne, Deputy Commissioner of Legal Affairs at the NYPD and Ben Rosenberg, General Counsel to Manhattan DA Cy Vance with Asim Rehman, General Counsel to the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD as moderator.

The New York City Campaign Finance Board is offering a "Compliance only" training session, which covers campaign finance laws and CFB rules for the 2017 election cycle, at 5:30 p.m on Tuesday. "The candidate, treasurer, campaign manager or other individual with significant managerial control over the campaign is legally required to attend both a Compliance and a C-SMART training."

On Tuesday at 6 p.m. the Department of Education will hold a public meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy at Long Island City High School. The 2015-2019 five year capital plan amendment, the annual estimate and the list of contracts will be voted on.

Also at 6 p.m. Comptroller Scott Stringer will host an "LGBTQ Pride Celebration and Changemakers Award Ceremony...honoring individuals for their outstanding contributions to the LGBTQ community" in Manhattan on Tuesday night.

The University Neighborhood Housing Program will host its annual forum at 8:30 a.m. on "The Cost of Water: Balancing Fairness, Housing Affordability and Conservation." UNHP's report "Affordable Water for Affordable Housing" will be discussed by panelists including Jim Buckley of UNHP, Laurie Schoeman of Enterprise Community Partners and Jamie Stein of Stormwater Infrastructure Matters Coalition.

On Wednesday morning at Baruch College the AARP will be releasing a "groundbreaking NYC survey on the financial security and retirement savings crisis facing the city's Gen X and Baby Boomer generations," with City & State NY. Speakers include: Joyce Rogers, Senior Vice President and AARP National Representative and John Adler, Director of Mayor's Office of Pensions.

10 a.m. Wednesday morning, the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be having their next public meeting. An agenda will be made available on Tuesday and posted to its Twitter feed, @NYCCFB.

On Wednesday at the City Council:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on General Welfare will meet for an oversight meeting over the services and policies at the HIV/AIDS Services Administration.
  • At 11 a.m. the Committee on Land Use will meet to discuss land use applications.
  • At 2 p.m. the Committee on Health will meet to discuss a new law that would require the department of Health and Mental Hygiene to conduct community air quality surveys and publish the results annually.

The New York City Campaign Finance Board is offering a "C-SMART only" training session, which will provide "an overview of the CFB's web-based application which campaigns must use to manage and disclose financial activity" for the 2017 election cycle, at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday. "The candidate, treasurer, campaign manager or other individual with significant managerial control over the campaign is legally required to attend both a Compliance and a C-SMART training."

At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, the New York City Rent Guidelines Board will be at Cooper Union for its last public meeting this cycle. After four previous meetings with public testimony a final vote on rent guidelines for October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016 will be taken at this public meeting.

On Thursday at the City Council: At 1 p.m. the Committee on Environmental Protection will meet to discuss a bill that would mandate construction sites within 75 feet of any school (public, private, preschool primary or secondary) should not exceed 45 dB during normal school operating hours and that noise levels at school sites shall be continuously monitored during those hours.

Empire State Pride Agenda will host "Equality @Work Awards" on Thursday at 6 p.m. "Through its Pride in My Workplace program, the Empire State Pride Agenda has been helping New York businesses establish policies and practices that support the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees."

Thursday evening in Brooklyn, it is the 2015 Working Families Party Gala, celebrating "17 years of fighting inequality in New York and honor a rising generation of progressive leaders.

Friday and the weekend
Friday is the last day for the Fast Food Wage Board to receive oral or written testimony. Written testimony can be mailed or emailed.

There will be a Manhattan Borough Service cabinet meeting on Friday at 9:30 a.m. The Borough Service Cabinet meetings focus "on city service delivery and agency responsiveness across the borough."

On Saturday morning at 11 a.m. Citizenship Now! and the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs will assist permanent residents with their citizenship applications. If all naturalization requirements are met then an experienced lawyer and other immigration professionals will provide assistance with filling out the forms.

The New York City Pride parade will be Sunday at 11 a.m.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Bernard Agrest, Erika Wang, and Ben Max

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 22 Fri, 19 Jun 2015 14:38:12 +0000