East New York Councilmember Rafael Espinal has introduced two bills aimed at protecting the city’s small business community, which increasingly has been threatened by rapidly rising commercial rents, the growth of e-commerce, onerous regulations and gentrification.

“We’ve heard it over and over again: Our small business community is suffering, and they feel like the city has turned its back on them,” said Espinal who represents the 37th District, including portions of Bedford Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Bushwick, Crown Heights and East New York. “The rising rents in Brooklyn are taking a major toll on our mom-and-pops. Places go out of business because of the cost of retail space. While we courted Amazon with lavish tax breaks, our mom-and-pops shops have been struggling just to keep their heads above water.”

Intro-1408 would help promote small business development by requiring affordable housing developers, that receive financial assistance from the city, to set aside affordable ground floor commercial space. The bill would task the NYC Department of Small Business Services, and other city agencies overseeing the affordable housing development, to conduct a neighborhood retail needs assessment to determine how much retail space to set aside and how much the rent would be. 

SBS would also recommend lower rent prices based on the market value in the area and would be authorized to conduct investigations and assess remedies for violations committed by developers.

Councilmember Rafael Espinal introduced bill to halt the city’s ticketing blitz on small businesses. Photo credit: NYC Council/ Twitter

Espinal’s second bill, Intro-1466, would require nine city agencies, including the Department of Buildings, the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Sanitation, among others, to establish a review panel to evaluate city and state laws regarding small business regulations such as business and health codes.

The panel would also be tasked with evaluating whether certain laws could be repealed, or whether cure periods could be implemented to allow businesses to fix the problem before receiving a fine, as well as make recommendations for legislation to further protect and foster small businesses. 

Last December, Espinal introduced legislation to protect small business owners from a surge in tickets and fines. Central and East Brooklyn businesses were targeted for small infractions like awning violations which usually can be chalked up to small issues such as improper font size or listing of phone numbers, yet result in thousands of dollars in fines, accompanied by a hefty price tag for the installation of a new sign.

“Protecting New York’s small business culture starts with a recognition that the rent has become unaffordable for way too many commercial tenants,” said Espinal. “My legislation is a step in that direction, and I hope it will bring more attention to the struggles our small businesses face.”

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