OpEd by Sandy Nurse, City Council Candidate 37th District
The COVID-19 pandemic, shutdown, and economic recession have changed how our economy works for the long term. From permanent outdoor dining to remote working to even more shopping being done online, the jobs and businesses of our post-COVID future will be very different from what we now know.
As these changes become permanent, it is critical that leaders across the city prepare our small immigrant-owned and MWBE businesses with the resources and information they need to adapt to a quickly changing economy.
That has been a major focus of my campaign for City Council in District 37. During the pandemic, we have done extensive outreach with local businesses to ensure Spanish speaking owners both knew how to apply for the PPP loans and had access to PPE.
However, even with community outreach, the fact remains that many immigrant owned businesses are struggling. Many have never received any public assistance, and did not have access to credit lines.Sadly, even more have permanently closed their doors. We have seen that happen here in the 37th District on commercial corridors like Fulton Street, Atlantic Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue, and Knickerbocker Avenue.
As more and more New Yorkers are getting vaccinated, our job is to make sure our Latin and Caribbean small businesses owners are not left behind again. It’s time our communities have economic justice.
We have the power to drive the changes to promote resilient local economic development in our community.
That is why I am running for City Council on a community-centered platform. I want to fight for policies that promote an economy that will work for our locally owned businesses and workers. But, the Council can’t do this alone: It’s going to take leaders at every level of government working in every corner of our communities, to effectively rebuild and support the neighborhoods we are running to represent.
That’s why my campaign has already built a strong coalition with our overlapping State and Federal elected representatives to ensure we are ready to get to work immediately.
As a progressive Afro-Latina community leader, I am already working to ensure workers and small businesses know about all of the resources available to them now, and in the future. I will work with other Council Members to expand worker rights and technical assistance for the small businesses in our communities and across New York City.
And here’s the thing: This is not about small changes here and there. We need to pass a full slate of targeted policies if we truly want to center equity and justice for our workers and immigrant owned and MWBE businesses in New York City.
Here is what we see as the path forward:
We must work with small business owners and citywide allies to implement commercial rent stabilization. Excessive and arbitrary commercial rent hikes are destroying, and threatening to destroy, the ability of our local small businesses to continue to exist. We all know these businesses are the foundation of our communities. The next City Council has to implement commercial rent stabilization to level the playing field during lease negotiations, and then protect small business owners from the greed of landlords and developers down the line. Without rent stabilization, small businesses will be displaced by landlords looking to cash in from big multinational corporations.
We need more multilingual small business services support. Many immigrant and monolingual non-English business owners still have not applied for and received a PPP loan because they are struggling to navigate the application process. Too often there are no phone numbers available for them to call for assistance with the application. Government agencies should have the means to reach out to multilingual or monolingual business owners to ensure that they receive the assistance to which they are entitled. As a future City Council Member, I see being a liaison between the government and our communities in this way to be one of the most important parts of the job.
We need a vacancy tax to disincentivize landlords from leaving their storefronts empty. Right now, when you walk through any neighborhood in New York City, the sheer number of empty storefronts is staggering. There is no shortage of small, local businesses who want to move in: They are empty because landlords routinely deny community members the ability to rent their storefronts, hoping they will get offers from corporate franchises or chain retailers. In doing so, our communities are being hurt and deprived of important economic and cultural spaces. Landlords should not be able to hold our communities back by intentionally keeping our local business districts empty, and we need a vacancy tax to stop this practice.
We must protect our district’s manufacturing spaces from being rezoned or illegally converted into residential units. We need manufacturing spaces to provide jobs to our neighbors and create economic growth in our district. The illegal conversion of these spaces to residential units hurts economic growth and undermines us solving the existing housing crisis.
We must establish and expand funding to support worker cooperatives and workforce development programs in new sustainable industries. Worker cooperatives and workforce development programs have the potential to ensure that the future of our city is green, while building community wealth, and democratizing work spaces.
We must support workforce development programs for workers who are retired but still need to work to supplement their fixed incomes. We will fight for training in computer based jobs and other remote jobs to ensure that they can live comfortably and safely.
We must support community credit unions and the establishment of a Public Bank to invest in local, non-predatory development. Wall Street has never been, and never will be, interested in protecting or serving local communities. Now, more than ever, as we are in the vulnerable stage of recovering from an economic recession, we need to establish local financial institutions that we can trust with the livelihoods of our communities. A Public Bank will serve that role.
We need to start protecting workers who are in the informal economy like street vendors and gig workers working for app companies. These workers are often incredibly vulnerable due to their immigration status, or they are also often second chance workers who are at the mercy of their job place to prevent them from being incarcerated for minor offenses. Like all workers, they deserve legal protections.
We need to enable more immigrant-owned small businesses and worker cooperatives to procure city funding through IDNYC. IDNYC permits all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, both the ability to identify themselves and the ability to access a variety of services, benefits, and discounts. However, the existence of IDNYC is not enough to actually ensure that those who need it can get it. We need to strengthen the system, and expand it.