We don’t often have occasion to interview elected officials beyond those who represent the Lower East Side. But the other day, The Lo-Down spent some time catching up with City Council member Annabel Palma of the Bronx. She’s sponsoring the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), which would grant commercial tenants some lease renegotiation rights. We’re tracking the uphill fight for passage in the Council as part of our yearlong reporting project on small business survival.
Palma will be delivering opening remarks tonight at a Small Business Forum in the Bronx. It’s co-sponsored by Take Back NYC, an advocacy group helping to lead the charge on the SBJSA, and the Bronx Times. According to a press release, the forum will address solutions to the “small business crisis” in New York City, with a strong focus on rapidly escalating rents and their impact on immigrant-owned mom-and-pops.
Versions of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act have been knocking around City Hall since the mid 1980s. In its last iteration a few years ago, local City Council member Margaret Chin was the prime sponsor (she’s a sponsor of the latest version, as well).
The legislation would allow tenants to negotiate “fair” leases by requiring mediation and, if necessary, binding arbitration with their landlords. The real estate industry has repeatedly blocked the bill, arguing that it would place unconstitutional limits on property owners. There are now 23 sponsors in the Council. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito told the Villager four months ago that a hearing would be scheduled after the legislation was vetted by the Council’s legal staff.
In our interview, Palma said she has received no word about the hearing and no one on the Council staff has spoken with her about any potential legal problems. “It’s a little frustrating,” said Palma. “I really see what’s happening as politics as usual — special interest groups influencing the work of the City Council.”
The SBJSA, she pointed out, is not a new piece of legislation and has been reviewed both within the City Council and by outside legal experts on numerous occasions. Palma also noted that Mark-Viverito, prior to her ascension to the speakership, was a sponsor. The legal argument, she said, “is the cover some folks like to hide behind,” when in reality the opposition is actually about the “real estate industry wanting to protect its bottom line.” Palma does not have a problem with property owners making money, but believes landlords and tenants must meet in the middle. “I believe it’s a big city,” she explained. “There is room to make sure the real estate industry thrives and, at the same time, small businesses are protected.”
Returning to the subject of politics, Palma said, “Every politician campaigns on the back of small business,” but once the elections are over, “they do nothing on behalf of those small businesses. I think it’s time for that to change.” She has no misgivings about taking on the daunting push for passage in the Council. “We just need to get everyone at the table to figure out how we’re going to protect the small businesses, because their survival is good for everyone.”
Tonight’s forum will be held at the Hellenic Orthodox Community Church, 3673 Bruckner Blvd., 7-9 p.m.
We’re devoting a year to sustained coverage of small business survival on the Lower East Side. Click here to see all of our coverage of this important topic.