New York City Lawmaker fights to save immigrant small businesses and jobs

CHRONIQUE DES INVITÉS/GUEST COLLUM By Steven Barrison

  • New York City Lawmaker fights to save immigrant small businesses and jobs

The last 20 years of hyper real estate speculation in NYC has put every immigrant business owners’ future in jeopardy. The majority of immigrant owners fear when their leases are about to expire.  They are anxious due to having no rights in the lease renewal process in a market where Landlords are making windfall profits, while long-established businesses are forced to close in record numbers. It is not just the out of control sky high rent increases they are fearful of, it is the landlord abuses resulting from years of unchecked greed. Abuses like cruel short-term leases of sometimes month to month, or one to two years, making immigrant owners little more than indentured servitude to their Landlords. Another abuse which targets mostly immigrant owners is the illegal extortion of cash “under the table” demanded by unscrupulous landlords under threat of pay up or be thrown out of business. For immigrant owners a major worry has been the rapid rise in property taxes, which the Landlords are passing onto their tenants.

Never has in recent history immigrant small businesses been in a more dire situation with their American Dream threatened and being destroyed in every borough of the city. Even with a growing crisis, they no longer can count on being saved by a Government that is pro-big real estate. At City Hall, a powerful real estate lobby, REBNY has giving huge sums of campaign contributions to lawmakers to remain silent and do nothing to stop the closing of immigrant businesses.

Even as this crisis has grown worse, there is hope to save immigrant businesses and end their crisis. A lawmaker, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez has stepped up to be a strong voice for immigrant owners and their employees. Councilman Rodriguez is the prime sponsor of a bill, Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which advocates believe is the only real solution to stop the closing of businesses and end the crisis.

The Small Business Jobs Survival Act is a bill that gives rights to commercial tenants when their leases expire. Rights to renew minimum 10-year leases, rights to equally negotiate with their Landlords fair lease terms and rights to an arbitration pro cess if mutual agreement cannot be reached.

At a recent press conference held in Queens for mostly ethnic media, Councilman Rodriguez called his bill the Immigrant Jobs Survival Act because the forgotten victims of the now decades old, out of control real estate speculation has spread citywide destroying the backbone of our economy and the American Dream for immigrant owners and their employees.

Councilman Rodriguez was asked why he was taking up the challenge to save the immigrant businesses and fight against the powerful real estate lobby. He is the only lawmaker at City Hall who was born outside of the US. He was born in the Dominican Republic and came here poor, and washed dishes to survive. In college, he was the chief organizer of students to demonstrate for their rights. He has a long history as a strong fighter of immigrant rights. Rodriguez, “For years, even before being elected, I have advocated for the immigrant families who are not respected by government for their contributions to our local economy or culture. They have no voice in Government, are treated as second-class citizens, and their problems have been ignored. Immigrants own the majority of small businesses and thus create the majority of immigrant jobs in NYC. They face a crisis to survive which means their workers also face a crisis to survive.” After being denied a hearing for 9 years, a hearing on the bill was held October 22, 2018, at City Hall.

The advocates for the bill were unanimous in testifying that every small business owner faced a crisis and needed the protection of this bill to survive in today’s rental market.

Opponents, mostly from big real estate and Government-funded groups, attacked the bill as commercial rent control and offered substitute proposals that gave no rights at all to the business owners. Councilman Rodriguez did not argue with their false narratives, but instead ask each one the same question, “If you have a better solution to stop the closings and save jobs, I want to hear it. But besides the high rents it must also stop the extortion, end short-term leases, end 30 days vacate notice, and an end to the tenants forced to pay their landlords’ taxes.”

Opponents also testified to the need to change the bill. Advocates believe the call to change the bill was only done to allow big real estate after the hearing to water down the bill to keep the status quo in favor of only the landlords.

At the Queen’s forum, Councilman Rodriguez made clear his position on changes to the bill : “As prime sponsor, only I can change the bill ! I will not be unduly influenced by special interests or any political machine. I am open to listening to any solutions or changes that will make the bill better and keep the tenants’ rights and the intent of the law. The bill was written to give rights to commercial tenants when their leases expire. It’s a tenant rights bill and as such any changes to the bill must protect the rights of the tenants. Therefore, any changes that infringe or take away rights of small business owners are nonnegotiable.” So far no realistic or sensible changes have been brought forward; none.¨

Even though Councilman Rodriguez is running for Public Advocate, he still has been working day and night to gain support for his bill and as of today has 29 sponsors, which is 3 more than needed to pass !

At the end of the Queen’s Forum, Sung Soo Kim, recognized as the “Godfather of immigrant small businesses,” endorsed Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez for Public Advocate. Mr. Kim was the drafter of the original version of the bill and kept it alive for 30 years.   Kim says, “I call upon all the city’s immigrant communities to fully support Councilman Rodriguez for Public Advocate. He is a strong voice for immigrant rights and will fight to see they receive justice and fair treatment at City Hall. I personally trust and belief in his integrity and commitment to immigrant families because he knows from personal experience our Government has not done enough to protect them, and how vital the role of small businesses and the jobs they create is to every immigrant community. ¨

* Steven Barrison, Esq. is Spokesperson for Small Business Congress.


cet article est publié par l’hebdomadaire Haïti-Observateur, édition du 26 décembre 2018 et se trouve en P. 12, à : http://haiti-observateur.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/H-O-26-december-2018.pdf

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