What is it going to take to get city politicians to start doing the right thing? It costs a small fortune to live in this city and when bills are introduced that would help give a leg up to artists, there isn’t enough support to get them off the ground.
Case and point: The Small Business Jobs Survival Act. This is a bill that will help commercial tenants facing displacement from rising rents—including artists’ studios and small businesses—and it currently has only 23 of the 26 votes it needs to pass.
The bill would require commercial landlords to offer ten-year leases to all existing tenants who’ve paid their rent on time. If the two sides can’t agree on terms, they go to arbitration. Currently a landlord doesn’t have to renew a tenant’s lease, can kick the tenant out whenever it suits them, raise their rent exorbitantly, and the tenant has no means of contesting the decision.
So what’s the issue? It’s unclear, but you can be sure the real estate industry has something to do with this. According to an article published yesterday in the Village Voice, the Real Estate Board of New York is threatening lawsuits if the bill were to pass. In response, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, along with council Small Business Committee chair Robert Cornegy, has also proposed her own compromise bill. This offers nonbinding mediation and a mandatory one-year lease renewal with maximum 15 percent rent increase.
This bill would offer much needed stability to people like Brooklyn-based artist Tamara Zahaykevich, who tells the Voice that since moving to New York in 1996, she’s had to move her home 10 times and her studio 10 times. That’s 20 moves in 19 years. Her story is not unique. Over the past ten years we’ve written about artists who have been forced out of their studios for reasons that range from outrageous rent increases, to PR schemes to fake health concerns and capacity issues. That kind of life isn’t sustainable in the long term.
It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that the bill is gathering steam; three weeks ago, TakeBackNYC, a political lobbying group supported by a coalition small businesses, announced that they had garnered three more votes for the bill, bringing the votes up to 23.
Clearly momentum is building for this bill, which is why it’s surprising that city councilman and chair of the New York City Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee Jimmy Van Bramer (of Queens) isn’t backing the bill. According to the Artist Studio Affordability Project, the organization that inspired the Village Voice article, Van Bramer opposes the act because it hurts small businesses. They’re lobbying to change his mind.
We reached out to Van Bramer for comment but have not yet received a reply. We think one is warranted. Given the stability a bill like this could offer artists and small businesses in the city, and the position he occupies in the city’s cultural affairs, his point of view needs more careful consideration.
Updated: Jason Banrey, the Deputy Chief of Staff/Media & Public Policy Director for Van Bramer’s officer eached out to dispute that the councilman ever said he would not support the bill. Banrey told us over the phone that the councilman is generally supportive of the bill and is talking with artists and small businesses that would be affected by this bill in an effort to ensure that their concerns are addressed in any potential legislation that would be voted on.