Well, these are bad times for the businesses on Jamaica Avenue, many of them struggling month to month just to keep their heads above water. And instead of throwing our businesses a life preserver, our city tosses them an anvil.
Walk down Jamaica Avenue and you’ll see all types of storefronts. Restaurants and nail salons, and fruit stands and pizzerias.
But behind those storefronts are people and families that have invested their life’s savings into businesses here in Woodhaven. They have rolled the dice and nearly everything they own is invested right here in our community.
So their fear and frustration at what’s happening right now is completely understandable.
So what’s happening? You might have noticed the large number of storefronts whose signs have been removed. In some cases they’ve been replaced by printed banners. In other cases, all that remains is the building's brick face.
In a nutshell, a lot of businesses around New York City have been putting up signs and awnings for years without getting the proper permits.
Granted, sometimes it was intentional, as those permits can run several thousand dollars. Other times, it was because the storeowners were not aware they needed a permit for a small sign or awning.
Year after year, these businesses passed inspection and the city never raised a complaint or said anything to them about needing a permit. Frankly, it was chump change to the city and they weren’t all that interested in it.
Why? The more businesses that operate, the more taxes the city collects.
It collects taxes from property owners, it collects sales tax from the businesses, it collects taxes from the consumers. Just like Vegas, the House of New York City always profits.
So what changed? A few months ago someone (no one knows who) began reporting the businesses anonymously via 311.
All of this information is available online, and someone took advantage of that information to go store by store down Jamaica Avenue, reporting businesses to the city.
With a complaint in hand, the Buildings Department was obligated to follow up, and as a result dozens of businesses on Jamaica Avenue not only had to pay the cost of the permit, but were also hit with civil penalties and received Environmental Control Board violations.
And so, the businesses that are struggling to survive not only have to come up with upwards of $5,000 for a permit, but in many cases an additional $5,000 or $6,000 in fines.
And if those fines are not paid promptly, and the clock is always ticking, the penalties keep increasing.
For small businesses struggling to survive, coming up with $10,000 to $12,000 or more could be a death knell.
But the city shrugs. The house makes the rules and the house always wins. They’ll collect taxes either way, and if these businesses go under, the city expects that there will be another busload of suckers right behind them ready to invest their life’s savings.
Our elected representatives have been standing up for our businesses, and hosted a public meeting last week to hear their concerns.
Assemblyman Mike Miller and State Senator Joe Addabbo are sponsoring legislation to help our businesses, and the City Council is considering a bill supported by council members Eric Ulrich and Bob Holden that would retroactively return the civil penalties, thus easing the burden.
But these bills and measures will take time to pass and go into effect.
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez met with Mayor Bill de Blasio, and asked him to issue an immediate moratorium on penalties to these businesses. It is within his power to do so, and we hope he does so swiftly.
To be clear, the businesses would still have to pay the cost of the permits, hopefully with a grace period built in with no penalties. That would be a fair resolution I think we could all live with.
And going forward, we hope the city will reevaluate the cost of these permits and look for more ways to create a business-friendly environment here in Woodhaven and the surrounding area.
Though the House of New York City always wins, it’s better when we all win. The mayor has a chance to make that happen, let’s hope he rolls the dice.