Letter: Use Plan: JP/Rox to support local business

In 2014 Manuel Mejia, owner of Pin Bochinche Restaurant in Egleston Square, and six other business owners were facing eviction or a 65 percent increase in location costs. The situation was dire. “Our businesses will not be able to survive…our customers are primarily people in this neighborhood, people who have modest incomes. We can’t pass on the increase to them,” Mejia said at the time.

But JPNDC, Egleston Square Main Street, and City Life/Vida Urbana stepped in to advocate for these businesses. City official Sheila Dillon mediated disputes between business owners and the developer. State Rep. Liz Malia and City Councilor Matt O’Malley helped facilitate negotiations.

As a result, the developer agreed to negotiate new leases and additional provisions to make sure the businesses could afford rent. Mejia still serves delicious food to neighbors, employs neighbors, provides for his family, and preserves the culture of the neighborhood.

We want to bring this advocacy and facilitation to scale. Small business owners invested in the Washington Street corridor when big developers wouldn’t, and now rapid development and escalating costs are placing these businesses at risk for displacement and closure. Plan: JP/Rox is a tremendous opportunity for the City to support local businesses and set a precedent for the rest of Boston. We have five suggestions for improving the current plan.

First, the plan, and all drafts prior to completion, must be translated into Spanish, and other languages, so that business owners who speak languages other than English can read the plan.

Second, the plan must include a commitment from the City to mediate disputes between small businesses and developers, as it did for Mejia and the other owners. Small business owners have few legal recourses and a seat at the negotiating table is key to their survival.

Third, the plan should provide for funding to help small businesses cope with threats of displacement: from legal fees to marketing if they have to move. These costs could sink an otherwise viable business.

Fourth, small businesses have advocates – local nonprofits and residents, who played a critical role in helping Mejia’s business. Area residents, the customers and backbone of any successful business, have anti-displacement proposals that impact these businesses. The plan must recommend ways to enhance the roles of all these stakeholders.

Fifth, similar to the Office of Housing Stability, the plan should call for an Office of Small Business Stability. Just as helping families be secure in their homes benefits the community as a whole, supporting small businesses to adapt and thrive will strengthen our economy.

Our corridor hums thanks to small businesses like Pin Bochinche. We ask that the BRA meet with residents, small business owners and nonprofits to discuss these suggestions. We are ready, willing and able to sit at the table and provide actionable ideas to help improve the JP/Rox Plan.

Carlos Espinoza-Toro, Leslie Bos and Juan Gonzalez, JPNDC

Lisa Owens, Maria Christina Blanco and Helen Mathews, City Life/Vida Urbana

Luis Edgardo Cotto, Egleston Square Main Street

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