In November 2008, then-City Council member Hiram Monserrate and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that a $3 million tenant relocation fund would be established and available for Willets Point businesses (i.e., tenant businesses operating at Willets Point, that would eventually need to relocate due to the proposed development).
In addition, immediately prior to the City Council's vote to approve the Willets Point development, during the City Council Stated Meeting held on November 13, 2008, Council Member Monserrate referred to the Willets Point tenant business relocation fund: "We have put forth … a fund to assist the current business owners, that I also met with today." (Tenant businesses that attended the meeting with Monserrate that day recall that the amount of the fund was $3.5M.)
Later in 2009, when Monserrate successor Julissa Ferreras took office, she acknowledged that the tenant businesses want group relocation, together -- and she articulated a plan for the businesses to incorporate a co-operative so that they may best deal with commercial landlords. Ferreras would facilitate the legalities of this with EDC, and she said that the city must find or provide the needed property and that she would fight for this to the end...
Excerpts of interview with City Council Member Julissa Ferreras -- September 2009The Willets Point Defense Committee produced a 77-page document known as the Sunrise Cooperative Business Plan explaining exactly how, where and why the businesses needed to be relocated as a group, which is what Julissa suggested they do. The report was done in collaboration with the Urban Justice Center and Council Member Ferreras and was submitted to the EDC in October 2012 with the expectation that the City would act upon it. Below is an excerpt:
Q: When you meet with representatives of the tenant businesses, what concerns are you hearing from them?
JF: Currently the concerns are, they want to move as a group. They want to move as a – all of them, together, for whatever property it is. They're concerned about identifying a property that is conducive and that makes sense for them, that's reflective of the services that they've already had. And when I say "services", I don't mean, you know – clearly, there's no sewer – we all know what they don't have. But they do have a highway; they do have mass transit; they're in the center of a huge hub. So they want to be able to replicate that and ensure that that is replicated wherever they go.
JF: EDC really feels that they are on their timeline. That their timeline hasn't budged. They feel, you know, "we said that we wouldn't start any type of looking for a site or working with Cornerstone until next year." So they say January first of 2010 is when they'll start looking for a site; identifying a site. Now, interesting, what I have learned in the conversations is that relocating them as a group is more complicated than just saying "okay, we're going to identify a spot," because all of them have independent landlords currently. So if you relocate them, and you move them, the landlord wherever they're moving, wherever they find a spot, let's say that they find a spot, the new landlord has to agree to subdivide them – the location – and give them each an independent lease. Which most landlords probably wouldn't necessarily agree on. So the conversations that we're trying to see if it can happen, is if they can form a cooperation, or a "co-op," or some type of corporation where they can all become partners. But then that's something independently as tenants that they all have to agree with, see what it means; and then the corporation would sign the lease with whatever manufacturing building that it is that they identify. And then, I think as the conversations are starting to happen, they originally talked about moving 60 of them together; now it's more like 40. So we really have to look at what the real numbers are, because I think even within their own groups the frustration and anxiety is now kind of wearing a little at the coalition that they have. But still, even if you're moving 20, or 50, it's still an incredibly large number, and I think it is the City's responsibility to find this space. And I'm someone who's going to advocate for that and fight for it to the very end, because it's something that they deserve. The monies are still there, which is the $3 million dollars.
JF: I think that Willets Point really needs to get that conversation going, and train the workers, as opposed to just trying to shuffle them off. Because that's where my frustration comes in – don't try to shuffle my people off! That I will not accept. We deserve the best, and that's what I'm going to advocate for.
JF: You know, I in my heart believe that we need to – we need Willets Point as a, as an entity, to be relocated. And it makes sense for our communities. So I think that they need to be relocated.
Now, per the recent EDC letter to tenants below, there is NO group relocation -- after all of the effort that had been dedicated to it. Instead, Ferreras seems poised to take credit, with EDC, for "identifying" $3.5 million to be disbursed to the tenant businesses. Per the letter, each tenant may receive a payout equivalent to 12 months' rent -- provided that the tenant must agree to leave Willets Point by November 30, 2013. Those who stay through the end of January 2014 would receive just 6 months' rent. Beyond that, perhaps nothing.
The announcement of this $3.5 million -- on the heels of tenant businesses receiving 30-day eviction notices -- is designed to distract from the real news: that Ferreras and EDC have failed to implement the group relocation that was the goal, and which the Sunrise Co-operative sought in good faith. Moreover, Ferreras has no business claiming credit for arranging the $3.5 million offered now, as $3.5 million was already established by her predecessor in 2008, and has been awaiting use since that time. In any case, 12 months' rent (or roughly $12,000 - $18,000) is insufficient for any business to make a down payment on rental of a property outside of Willets Point, where rents are considerably higher.
It will be interesting to see whether Marco Neira, leader of the tenant businesses, objects to the inadequacy of the $3.5M fund or the failure to implement group relocation considering that he does not operate any business within "Phase One" (and so he is not affected by the $3.5M fund), and he has been presented with a proclamation by Ferreras.