CIVIC CENTER — Auto shop workers along Jerome Avenue in The Bronx would be able to avoid displacement in an upcoming neighborhood rezoning under a new bill proposed by City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, she says.
The bill, known as the Commercial and Auto Repair Stability Act (CARS), would require landowners to disclose their certificate of occupancy, tax liens and fines they have on their properties before entering into a lease with a prospective tenant.
The bill would help auto repair shops avoid having to shut down over issues of fines or inappropriate certificates of occupancy, and it will be much easier to advocate for the shops if they are in full compliance with city rules, Gibson said. Currently, auto shops that open in a space not zoned for commercial use could be evicted if the discrepancy is discovered.
"Without being in compliance, it’s very difficult for them, as well as myself and my colleagues, to advocate for their rights in this rezoning or any other rezoning in our city," she said. "Today, this morning, with the introduction of this act, that will change."
The bill would also require the Department of Small Business Services to create outreach material for auto shop workers about issues like certificates of occupancy and commercial leases. The department does not have a stance on the bill at this time.
Although Gibson said many auto shops along Jerome Avenue are working out of places with inappropriate certificates of occupancy, she placed the blame for this squarely on the landowners, describing the shops as good actors in the neighborhood who had been misled.
Jerome Avenue is well known in The Bronx for its prevalence of auto shops, but the city is currently in the midst of planning to rezone a stretch of the road from E. 165th Street to E. 184th Street, which has led to fears that the auto shops could get pushed out.
"One thing has become increasingly clear," Gibson said of the rezoning process. "The livelihoods of these owners and their workers are in danger."
The city hopes to use the Jerome Avenue rezoning as an opportunity to build more affordable housing, and while Brooklyn Councilman Robert Cornegy, who also expressed his support for Gibson's bill, said he appreciated the need for affordable housing, he maintained that it could be accomplished without displacing auto workers or other businesses.
"We can actually expand housing opportunities for people while protecting small businesses simultaneously," Cornegy said, "and that's what this act is about."
The bill has the support of United Auto Merchants Association President Pedro Estevez as well, who said it would be an effective way to help auto shop owners save money.
"Business owners will not spend their life savings remodeling the places to later find out that they're not going to get the proper licensing because [of] the certificate of occupancy," he said.
Gibson acknowledged that the bill in its current form only requires building owners to disclose what certificates of occupancy they have and does not require them to take action. However, she said she was working on strengthening the bill to deal with this issue and have it apply to existing leases as well.
The city has been working on rezoning Jerome Avenue for about two years, and Gibson said she expects the process to be done by the end of this year.
She knows that the Jerome Avenue corridor will change but vowed to help the auto shops that want to remain where they are.
"At the end of the day," she said, "my job is to fight for every auto business that wants to stay."