Hopefully by now we can all agree that the rent in New York is too damn high. For residents, yes, but also for small businesses. The city is becoming a hollow shell.
In a story last week about our dying bodegas, the New York Times reported: "According to a report from the Real Estate Board of New York, the average commercial rent in Manhattan rose 34 percent from 2004 to 2014."
And what's coming in to replace the bodegas (and everything else)? National and international chains. "In 2014, the city experienced the largest increase in chain stores in four years, and the sixth straight year of growth in chains."
In a story about our dying laundromats, which are vanishing from expensive and hyper-gentrified parts of town, the Wall Street Journal reported that rents are going up--by large percentages--and forcing out the laundromats. In addition, apps like Cleanly and Washio are taking business and killing the mom and pops.
The problem is happening in San Francisco, too, where techies have completely taken over. Writes Jack Smith at Tech.Mic, "As wealthy startup employees drive up rent and force out residents who depended on the convenience of nearby laundromats, those laundromats are now closing down... Services like Washio act like handmaids to wealthy young elites."
One Google employee's response to the problem was to dismiss it as "the cost of disruption," saying laundromats are no longer necessary. (Except, of course, for those of us who still need them.)
It's not just New York and San Francisco that are suffering from
mass corporatization and murder by rent hike, it's the whole country
(and the whole Western World). Grub Street just pointed to data that shows that, in another year or two, the majority of America's restaurants will be chains.
When landlords know they can get chains to pay high rents, they kick out small businesses--and leave the spaces empty for years. This creates what Tim Wu at The New Yorker called "high-rent blight." Entire neighborhoods are being wiped out and left as ghost towns. Think it's an exaggeration? Check out this piece over at Tribeca Citizen -- 100 vacant storefronts, all photographed, one after another, all pushed out by landlords demanding too-high rents.
Here's how Alan Ehrenhalt at Governing explains the issue: "Landlords sometimes jack up the rent not because they have a chain tenant in the wings, but because they hope to snare one. The landlords call them 'credit tenants.' In the meantime, there are tax deductions to be claimed. And if the building was a recent purchase, the landlord is paying off the acquisition at interest rates much lower than those that would have prevailed at any time in recent history.
In any event, the die-off is real. The question is whether the local government has the power and the political will to do anything about it."
Plenty can be done about this problem. And City Hall has the power. But no one is doing it.
This is a crisis of culture. It is a crisis of individuality and diversity. We can't save the world from this mind-numbing, soul-killing wave of monoculture, but we can #SaveNYC. And New York has been a driver of global culture from its beginnings.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Let's put a stop to exorbitant rent hikes on mom and pops by passing the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. Let's stop the spread of chains by passing a city-wide ordinance to control them. Let's fine landlords who leave their spaces open for longer than six months.
Here's what you can do to help. It's really not that hard. This city is worth saving.