Finally, a ray of hope for small businesses struggling to survive in Manhattan.
Borough President Gale Brewer -- a champion of the city’s local storefronts -- has come forward with a proposal that could break the logjam between businesses squeezed by rising rents and landlords looking to cash in on a red-hot retail market.
Essentially, Brewer is looking to balance out a lease negotiating process that is almost completely skewed in the landlord’s favor. Under her proposal, landlords would be forced to give their tenants a 180-day head’s up if they plan on raising rents. No more four- or five-fold rent hikes with 30 days’ notice.
If negotiations between the two sides stall, either party can ask for nonbinding mediation, or they can opt for a shorter, one-year lease extension with a rent increase capped at 15%, giving the business plenty of time to look for alternate space.
Not surprisingly, the real estate lobby has already signaled it will fight Brewer on her plan, just as it has fought the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a similar proposal that has been stalled for decades now.
Some small business activists have been trying to rekindle interest in the Act, but there are, unfortunately, few signs that a breakthrough is possible. (It is nice to see some of our colleagues at other Manhattan weeklies finally join the cause, a full year after we started our Saving Small Business campaign. Welcome aboard.)
Brewer is a veteran of these battles and knows what can pass and what can’t. When she was a council member, she managed to cap the width of retail frontages on commercial corridors on the Upper West Side, essentially blocking the expansion of big banks and national chains, who favor bigger footprints.
Now, Brewer is convinced that her bill will have a better shot than its predecessor (which, among other things, includes binding arbitration, which landlords see as a nonstarter).
It’s too early to game out whether Brewer’s plan has a political shot. Bill de Blasio has proven to be a surprisingly real estate-friendly mayor, notwithstanding his campaign rhetoric, and we don’t yet know the leanings of the council speaker.
We do know that the Brewer plan is, right now, the smartest option on the table.
Next month, the borough president will kick off a series Town Hall meetings to explain her proposal. Show up and give her some support. We’ll see you there.