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BKA, TakeRoot & VOLS Applaud The City’s Restoration Of Free Legal Assistance For Commercial Tenants

BKA, TakeRoot & VOLS applaud the city’s restoration of free legal assistance for commercial tenants

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: AUGUST 14, 2020
Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A Press Contact: Sarah Block, sblock@bka.org
TakeRoot JusticePress Contact: Natalie Schulmonds, nschulmonds@takerootjustice.org
Volunteer for Legal ServicesPress Contact: Jon Grabelle Herrmann, jgherrmann@volsprobono.org

BKA, TAKEROOT & VOLS APPLAUD THE CITY’S RESTORATION OF FREE LEGAL ASSISTANCE FOR COMMERCIAL TENANTS
New York, NY, August 14, 2020 — The Mayor announced at a press conference on Tuesday, August 11, that funding for the Department of Small Business Services’ Commercial Lease Assistance Program will be restored to the tune of $1.5 million in fiscal year 2021, a $300,000 increase from previous years. Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A (BKA), Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS), and TakeRoot Justice, the legal service providers responsible for implementing the program, applaud the de Blasio Administration for the restoration and expansion of legal assistance for small businesses at the height of the pandemic.

“As we deal with this economic crisis, we’re constantly thinking about the heart and soul of our neighborhoods, and that is our small businesses. So many small businesses have been through so much. We have to help them to keep going. And so, we’re going to bring back an approach that has worked in the past. We’re talking about the Commercial Lease Assistance Program. going to make it work again for small business owners who need help…In a very tough budget situation [it] had been put on hold … it is all about jobs. It is all about saving people’s livelihoods.”-      Mayor Bill de Blasio stated at the press conference.

“Thank you, Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Jonnel Doris, during these difficult financial times for recognizing the need to find the vital funds to restore small business support under the Commercial Lease Assistance Program. To help those mom and pop stores, specialty shops, our favorite food establishments, and service providers with free legal advice and services to ensure that they can stay open and thrive. And re-establish a mutually beneficial relationship and solution with their landlords […] I also want to thank Take Root Justice, Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A and Volunteers of Legal Services for their track record to help these small businesses, shops, and nonprofits.”-      New York State Assembly Member Charles Fall (D-61) stated at the press conference.

“Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A celebrates the Mayor’s restoration of this critical funding for legal services for small businesses. The CLA Program is essential to the survival of small businesses and communities of color in NYC. The small business community, especially BIPOC-owned businesses, have been catastrophically impacted by COVID-19. Recent reports highlight that business shutdowns from COVID-19 are devastating minority-owned businesses and communities of color, with a 40% decline of Black-owned businesses open from February to April. Now is the moment for us to work together to support the small businesses that define such an integral part of the fabric of each neighborhood throughout our City. Brooklyn A, together with our legal service and community-based partners, has stood by our clients through the crisis, using our advocacy tools to amplify their voices and to work with them to ensure that they survive another day. It benefits everyone to keep business open in their commercial spaces, and the restoration of this funding will enable us to continue to serve our small business clients.”-      Jessica Rose, Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A

TakeRoot Justice is pleased that the Mayor restored funding for the important Commercial Lease Assistance program, which is critical to the survival of hundreds of small businesses across this City. This program has been successful because of the effective role of nonprofit legal services provides and community organizations who understand the neighborhoods and the law. We look forward to playing a role in protecting Black, Brown, and women-owned businesses in this moment, and ensuring they are part of the future of NYC.”-      Elizabeth Clay Roy, Executive Director, TakeRoot Justice

“Volunteers of Legal Service is proud to work closely with the de Blasio administration, as well as our legal and community-based partners, to ensure that New York City’s small businesses can rely on legal support during the crisis and recovery to come. As our entire world is changing before our eyes, VOLS is proud that our staff and network of volunteer attorneys have been able to assist every small business who has called since the pandemic began. We thank Mayor de Blasio, Commissioner Doris, Assembly Member Fall, Council Member Rivera, as well as the tireless advocates across the small business community who made sure that the Commercial Lease Assistance program can continue strongly when it is needed most.”-      Marcia Levy, Executive Director, Volunteers of Legal Services

Launched in 2018 by Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Johnson, and then SBS Commissioner Bishop, the CLA Program provides free legal services to underserved, small business owners who cannot otherwise afford counsel in connection with negotiating their leases. The CLA Program has provided legal services on over 1,000 matters for hundreds of small business owners which are have been 75% people of color, 64% immigrants, and 51% women — from every borough in the City. The program provides pre-litigation, legal services related to commercial tenant and landlord disputes involving lease terminations, lease renewals, breaches of contract, and landlord harassment, amongst other non-lease related services.

One client of the program is Loycent “Loy” Gordon, owner of Neirs Tavern, one of the longest-operating taverns in the United States and debated as the oldest in NYC. Located in Woodhaven Queens, Neir’s recently celebrated its 190th year of operations. Loy, a Jamaican immigrant, and lieutenant in the NYC Fire Department, took management of Neir’s in 2009. He worked to keep it a hub of community activity in his largely working-class neighborhood. CLA Program attorneys worked with all parties to come to an initial oral agreement on a five-year lease allowing the Neir’s Tavern to remain open. However, the lease was not yet finalized when COVID-19 hit NYC, causing the business to have to close temporarily. Attorneys from the CLA program are continuing to negotiate fair terms in the lease with his landlord to improve chances of of survival through the crisis.

“This is a smart investment in the same local businesses that have been hard hit by the pandemic. Many local businesses are immigrant and minority-owned, and with reports saying half of the black-owned business won’t re-open, I am glad this funding restoration will go towards helping local businesses getting professional help with rent and lease matters, the largest fixed expense they have. For many, it’s the difference between staying open or closing permanently. 

When you invest in local business you invest in the owner’s ability to put their children through school, put food on the table, employ people living in the local community, and contribute tax revenue back into the local economy.  Similar to how my business, the 190-year-old historic Neirs Tavern, received help from the CLA to remain open, other mom & pop businesses also now have a better chance of surviving the pandemic to be better and stronger. This marks the first step on the road to recovery for our local businesses.”–     Loycent Gordon, Owner, Neirs Tavern

The restoration of funding comes after several months of advocacy from the small business community, legal service providers, and many others, including United for Small Business NYC. We extend our gratitude to Assembly Member Charles Fall, Council Member Carlina Rivera for, and SBS Commissioner Jonnel Doris for their advocacy pushing for the restoration of program funding.

The funding will cover the program for another year. The program partners, BKA, TakeRoot, and VOLS, view the restoration of funding as a critical step yet a continuation of the fight for program stability. The partners aim to move past year-to-year funding and will work to promote sustainable program investment that includes both public and private funding. The program partners are committed to building sustainability in addressing the immediate and long-term needs of small businesses as the health and economic crisis continues to unfold. The reversal of the decision to cut funding for the program at this pivotal moment of crisis, despite budgetary constraints, is a testament to the critical need for services for NYC’s small businesses as well as to the program’s successful track record. Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, TakeRoot Justice, and Volunteers of Legal Service are appreciative of the Mayor and many others whose advocacy for the program will benefit the small business owners, employees, and communities which comprise the heart of New York City.

About Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A (BKA): BKA advances social and economic justice and community empowerment through innovative, collaborative, neighborhood-based legal representation and advocacy. BKA represents low- and moderate-income individuals and families throughout NYC in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods where many residents and small business owners have been displaced or are facing displacement and harassment. For more information, visit www.bka.org.

About TakeRoot Justice: TakeRoot Justice provides legal, participatory research and policy support to strengthen the work of grassroots and community-based groups in NYC to dismantle racial, economic, and social oppression. For more information, visit www.takerootjustice.org.
About Volunteers for Legal Services: VOLS harnesses the power or New York City’s legal community and neighborhood-based groups to provide free, civil legal services to seniors, veterans, unemployed workers, immigrant youth, children and their families, mothers in prison, small business owners, and COVID-19 frontline healthcare workers. For more information, visit www.volsprobono.org.

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