New York lawmakers are on a quest to save restaurants and other small businesses.
State Assemblymember Harvey Epstein and State Sen. Brad Hoylman have introduced twin bills in their respective legislative bodies that would, in effect, cancel rent for some restaurateurs.
The legislation would mandate that restaurants and other businesses are on the hook for only 20 percent or one-third of their rent each month, whichever is less. It would apply only to businesses employing 25 workers or fewer, and to those who have lost revenue or been forced to shutter due to the coronavirus pandemic.
To curtail the financial impact on landlords, the bill would also provide $500 million in rent relief. Those funds would be distributed by either the Department of Finance or the Empire State Development Corporation, which would cut checks to landlords on behalf of their tenants.
“I really do think this is a win-win. Especially for the small mom-and-pop landlords, this is a win for them,” said Epstein. “This gets them money, which they may never see again. We don’t want anyone losing the building to foreclosure. This is the way to help them.”
The bills are currently in committee and have a long way to go before being approved, including getting the backing of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Epstein hopes the legislation will be passed as part of the FY2022 executive budget, which must be approved by April 1.
The New York City Hospitality Alliance expressed its support for the legislation, but thinks it could go further — namely, by applying to restaurants with up to 50 employees.
“New York City’s restaurant industry has been decimated, and now, one year into the pandemic, our state’s elected leaders must pass legislation providing rent relief to these struggling small business owners desperately in need,” the group’s executive director Andrew Rigie said in a statement.
Restaurants have been struggling to pay rent amid the pandemic. A report by the New York City Hospitality Alliance found that 92 percent of restaurants could not pay their full December rent, the highest that number has been since the start of the health crisis.
Federal support for restaurants, however, may be on its way. The $25 billion RESTAURANTS Act, which would provide grants to eligible food and beverage purveyors, was reintroduced earlier this month and is being voted on as part of the broader $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill. The House of Representatives was set to pass the bill Friday.