With the District of Columbia in an economic boom, D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) wants to make sure small businesses are able to stay in the city in spite of rising operational costs. To accomplish this, Nadeau authored a bill, “The Small Business Rental Assistance Program Establishment Act of 2017,” that establishes a rental assistance unit for small businesses within the District’s Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD). The Small Business Administration defines a small business as a firm with less than 500 employees.

Phinis Jones is a Ward 8 business owner who supports council member Nadeau’s bill to provide small businesses in D.C. with rental assistance. (Courtesy photo)

“As our neighborhoods get more and more expensive, our mom and pop businesses are feeling the same squeeze faced by our residents confronting affordable housing issues,” Nadeau said. “This bill will provide some relief to local businesses that are facing unsustainable rents. The character of our neighborhoods depends on sustaining the small and local businesses that we know and love.”

The bill would establish a grant/loan program within DSLBD to assist small businesses which have been in their neighborhood for a long time and which are financially stable, but cannot afford to rent property in the city.

The District has 68,236 businesses and 92 percent of those are small businesses, according to the Small Business Administration’s District of Columbia profile. There are 233,821 people who work in the District’s small businesses, which consists of 47.6 percent of all District employees in the public and private sectors.

According to the Census Bureau’s 2012 Survey of Business Owners, there are 22,047 Black-owned small businesses in D.C., which consists of 34 percent of all businesses in the District.

A recent survey that was aired on WTOP Radio on March 27 showed that District commercial rents averaged at $59.49 per square foot. one of the highest in the U.S.

“This legislation is good for businesses that are trying to get started,” Phinis Jones, president of Capitol Services Management, in Ward 8 told the AFRO. “Rental assistance would be an incentive for someone who wants to start a business but doesn’t have all the capital that they need to get started and operate in their early stages.”

Jones said that business incubators, where people get management training and office space, are good at the beginning of the business and rental assistance can be one of the options for entrepreneurs starting out.

Ron Moten, an anti-gang violence activist, serves as the facilitator for the new “Check It” clothing store in the Anacostia section of Ward 8. “This would be good for Check It because we built it without government assistance,” Moten told the AFRO. “We wanted to do something for ourselves but it takes time for a new business to raise the capital to pay for rent comfortably.”

Moten said that while he embraces the idea of small business rental assistance, there are limitations. “It shouldn’t be done forever,” he said.

Malcolm Beech, past president of the National Business League, agrees with Moten. “This should not be viewed as welfare for small businesses,” Beech told the AFRO. “Her idea isn’t new, though. Large businesses get tax incentives and revenue bonds while small businesses get little from the District government in terms of incentives. There should be an economic benefit for small businesses.”

Nadeau’s bill was co-introduced by D.C. Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Robert White (D-At Large), and Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and co-sponsored by David Grosso (I-At Large) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6).