SUPERBLOCKS: Imagine a city where car traffic is relegated to major thruways while neighborhoods are reclaimed for people, creating burgeoning street-level communities, increased commerce for small businesses, more luxurious green spaces, and cleaner air free from exhaust and fumes.
Superblocks are the most immediate action we can undertake as a city to increase business activity and improve our air and noise pollution. Superblocks originated in Barcelona, Spain, and transformed that city’s streets into walkable public spaces, where pedestrians, cyclists, and citizens mix safely. Car traffic is banned for a large part of the day and evening (opening up at night for deliveries), allowing pedestrians to walk freely within their neighborhoods, particularly for social distancing and various reopening stages. Here’s a quick video on the concept.
How can this idea improve our economy? Healthier citizens, for starters. We know that particulate matter from exhaust — even in the most diminutive forms — can lead to respiratory illness, making us more susceptible to viruses like COVID-19.
According to Scientific American, “The U.S. cities hardest hit by COVID-19 so far are also cities with poor air quality: the New York, San Francisco, and Seattle metro areas. Areas with the best air quality, such as Maine, Vermont, and Hawaii, have fewer COVID-19 deaths per capita. Poor air quality is caused by industry and traffic. Social distancing policies improve air quality by decreasing the pollutants released by traffic and factories. Satellite photos show cleaner air over COVID-19 restricted areas.”
Superblocks have been a boon for local businesses located within their organizational bounds. Pedestrians roaming within superblocks have led to increased commerce and business activity. That increased activity has led to additional job gains as businesses hire more staff to meet rising demand.
It is incumbent upon elected officials to implement evidence-based policy and seize this rare opportunity to take back our city streets for its residents.
WAGE SUBSIDIES: Eighty-nine percent of the more than 200,000 businesses in New York City employ fewer than 20 people. To revive our economy, we need to assist those small businesses as we continue to fight COVID-19 and the destruction it has left in its wake. To that end, the City Council should pass legislation offering small businesses wage subsidies to retain and hire new workers.
For small businesses with annual revenues between $0 — $200,000, the city would subsidize an additional $10 per hour salary per employee. There would be a sliding scale towards eliminating the subsidy for companies that make between $200,001 — $500,000 in revenues.
This program will provide a short-term stabilizing boost to its most vulnerable workers and businesses while creating a pathway toward the long-term economic stability and equity that our city deserves.
INCREASE BUSINESS EXPORT GRANTS BY TENFOLD: The current grant program to boost exports grant businesses up to $25,000, and non-profits up to $50,000, to promote their businesses worldwide. As currently devised, the Global NY program is not good enough.
More money is needed to assist our small companies to expand their foothold overseas. I propose we increase our export grants by a factor of ten to promote our New York businesses. The grants should be limited and given out on a sliding scale for companies that generate up to $2,500,000 in annual revenues.
My plan will increase export grants up to $500,000 for small businesses and up to $250,000 for non-profits.
COMMERCIAL RENT STABILIZATION: In the last 20 years, commercial rents have skyrocketed, and they've become unmanageable to our small businesses. When rent is too high, our small businesses cannot hire people, and operating costs are too high. This leads our small businesses susceptible to hardships during economic downturns like we are currently experiencing because of this pandemic.
During World War II, NYC implemented commercial rent control, and there is no reason why we can't do the same today facing an economic crisis that's akin to that. I will enhance and pass the Commercial Rent Stabilization Bill 1796 introduced in 2019, which would establish a system of commercial rent registration and regulation applicable to retail stores of 10,000 square feet or less, manufacturing establishments of 25,000 square feet or less, and professional services or other offices of 10,000 square feet or less. The Mayor would appoint a seven-member Commercial Rent Guidelines Board responsible for annually establishing guidelines and the rate of rent adjustments for covered commercial spaces.
remove the unincorporated business tax: Our small businesses operate in an unfriendly environment that limits their ability for growth, and we must remove unnecessary taxes that cause NYC to be a difficult place to succeed.
When companies register as a Limited Liability Corp (LLC), they are subjected to an additional 4% Unincorporated Business Tax (UBT), in addition to Medicare and Social Security taxes.
My plan includes removing the UBT for any small business with annual revenues under $5 million.
Congestion pricing: Eliminate congestion pricing fees for all small business deliveries.
INCREASE RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT FUNDING: Former Fed chair of the Federal Ben Bernanke wrote: “Innovation and technological change are undoubtedly central to the growth process; over the past 200 years or so, Innovation, technical advances, and investment in capital goods embodying new technologies have transformed economies around the world. In recent decades, as this audience well knows, advances in semiconductor technology have radically changed many aspects of our lives, from communication to health care.”
New York has an opportunity to increase funding towards research & development projects that leads to a new era of businesses based in NYC. We need to budget around 5% of our annual expenses towards these projects. We will create homegrown startups, high-paying jobs, and ambitious new projects to lead us into the future.
FULLY FUND NYC'S JOB TRAINING PROGRAMS: New York City has and historically attracts the best talent worldwide. That talent creates new high-skilled businesses that can provide a pathway for increased opportunity and social mobility. The local talent pool is often left behind — many workers are not capable of executing the tasks for offered jobs.
A fully funded job training program can support our investments in supporting businesses exporting on the global stage and towards our research and development programs.
DESIGN DISASTER READY HIGH-SPEED WIRELESS INTERNET CAPABILITIES: As Climate Change worsens, we must prepare for the accompanying extreme natural disasters that follow. Hurricane Sandy ravaged our city, and we cannot afford to be unprepared for any future incidents. We need to ensure our ability to communicate and have effective internet connectivity that’s resistant to natural disasters, which means we have to invest in disaster-proof and ready high-speed wireless internet.
In a recent Scientific American article, Daniel Cusik wrote, “Internet interruptions caused by extreme weather events sap billions of dollars annually from the global economy and can interfere with the delivery of essential data and services by governments, utilities, and first responders.” For our city to be prepared and forward-thinking, we need to explore using disaster-proof technology like millimeter waves to safely and securely transmit data.
Legislation to introduce these capabilities will create jobs and boost spending and city revenues.
RESTRICT NON-COMPETE CLAUSES: No company has the right to restrict a person’s livelihood. We need to ban the use of non-compete clauses.
TRANSFORM EMPTY STOREFRONTS TO SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE: Our city is overwhelmed with empty storefronts that yield our neighborhoods no social benefit and add to an image of commercial blight. We can do better by transforming these spaces into a temporary community location that increases social cohesion (envision cafes, libraries, public concerts, etc.) while the landlords benefit from the generated activity.
This BloombergCityLab article explains:
“The idea, says co-founder Aaron Greiner, is to create a shortcut to “social infrastructure” in communities that need more welcoming public spaces — amenities like parks and libraries, where neighbors can interact with one another. And the kicker: In exchange for injecting Kendall Square with a little street-level energy, Greiner* and his team pay no rent: Agreements with property managers rely on the premise that the non-commercial activation of idle stores will draw more life (and business) to the surrounding area. Early signs have been promising.”
CREATE A NEW YORK CITY RECONSTRUCTION FINANCE CORPORATION (RFC): The RFC was a New Deal program that staved off collapse for many businesses during the Great Depression. It was an independent agency within the federal government — I’m calling for a city agency — that “set up lending systems to channel private capital into publicly desirable investments. It innovated new insurance systems to guarantee those loans and delivered profits to businesses in peril during the Depression. Unionists, farmers, and consumers benefited as well, all without the government needing to spend a dime of taxpayer money.”
In essence, an NYCRFC will foster private-public partnerships to save our businesses from collapse for various sectors.
EXPAND COMMUNITY BANKS: A community bank is a depository institution that is typically locally owned and operated. Community banks tend to focus on the businesses' and families' needs, where they retain branches and offices. Lending decisions are made by people who understand the local needs of families and businesses. Employees often reside within the communities they serve.
Expanding community banks in New York City will generate local dollars and local jobs for local businesses.
EXPAND HPD'S THIRD-PARTY TRANSFER (TPT) AND MULTIFAMILY PRESERVATION LOAN PROGRAM (MPLP): These programs designate qualified sponsors to purchase and rehabilitate certain vacant and occupied multi-family properties in order to improve and preserve housing affordable to low- to moderate-income households. This program’s goal is to acquire and maintain distressed properties and return them to productive use.
EMPOWER WORKERS' VOICES: With the threat of COVID-19 among us, our essential workers need a say over their workplace's quality and safety. In a recently released report by Clean Slate for Worker Power, they recommend (and I support) the following:
Mandate elected safety stewards in every workplace.
Empower safety stewards to provide information, assist in enforcement, and help workers' collective action related to safety.
Create a sector-wide network of safety stewards.
Require safety stewards to report anonymized data regarding safety complaints to a government agency.
Require disclosure of safety steward reports.
Require the creation of workplace safety and health committees with elected members.
Empower workplace committees to adapt and implement safety and health standards and to have the discretion to request negotiations over new standards.
Empower workplace committees to file safety complaints internally and with government agencies; and Protect workers from retaliation for participating in committee activities.
Create sectoral safety and health commissions to negotiate baseline safety and health standards.
Alternatively, give sectoral commissions "meet and confer" rights to request information and discuss safety standards.
Include community organizations in sectoral safety and health commissions.
TRACK AND INVALIDATE DISCRIMINATORY FINES: People of color suffer endemic systematic racism, even in liberal cities. Recently, reports of police targeting and fining black business owners at disproportionate amounts and rates have surfaced. I will rescind and invalidate all these fines and hold those targeting minority business owners accountable.
Fine and Punish Discriminatory Lending Practices: A 2019 Small Business Report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta found the following:
Minority-owned firms’ loan applications tended to have worse outcomes (not controlling for other firm characteristics):
On average, Black- and Hispanic-owned firm applicants received approval for smaller shares of the financing they sought than White-owned small businesses that applied for financing. Larger percentages of Black- and Hispanic-owned firm applicants did not receive any of the financings they applied for — 38% and 33%, respectively — compared to 24% of Asian-owned firm applicants and 20% of White-owned business applicants.
A larger share of White-owned business applicants received approval for all the financing they applied for 49%, compared to 39% of Asian-, 35% of Hispanic-, and 31% of Black-owned firm applicants.
Minority-owned firms more frequently applied for potentially higher-cost and less-transparent credit products:
Hispanic-owned firm applicants sought merchant cash advance products more regularly than did White-owned businesses: 15% compared with 8%.
Black-owned business applicants applied for factoring more frequently than White-owned firm applicants (7% and 3%, respectively).
The time for racist business practices is over. Any financing institution that is found to have discriminated in their lending practices will be fined, forced to offer the terms the applicant sought, or face the consequence of being shut down.
Moreover, financial institutions that serve New York City will be mandated to disclose the quantity and amount of loans distributed and the race and socioeconomic profile of the applicant. This quarterly requirement will help determine if there is any adverse lending occurring.
TAX-FREE EMERGENCY RETIREMENT WITHDRAWALS: In times of personal tragedy, we should not tax — at either the Federal or State level — individuals who desperately need to draw down their savings. For Individuals making less than $175,000 and couples making less than $300,000, we need to eliminate taxes on withdrawals from qualified retirement accounts due to emergencies that include job loss, healthcare, and caring for a loved one. During these times, the stress incurred should not involve paying taxes as a penalty to punish those hurting.
INCREASE TAX-DEDUCTIBLE RETIREMENT CONTRIBUTION LIMIT: Over the last 50 years, as the “profit maximization” business model has become prevalent, we’ve seen company benefits like pensions and matching 401(k) programs downsized or altogether eliminated. The subsequent absence of services has placed the impetus on one’s capacity and ability to save to ensure a retirement not spent in poverty. Without ensuring more equitable wage growth, a majority of Americans will suffer as they reach retirement age. Because of these outcomes, I’m calling for an increase in the tax-deductible and non-deductible retirement contribution qualifications and limits that can be made to a Traditional/Rollover IRA and a Roth IRA, respectively.
The new criteria should reflect this need. The aggregate adjusted income limits (AGI) for individuals need to be raised to $175,000 and $300,000 for couples, with contribution limits raised to $10,000 (annual increase when adjusted by inflation).