But while he’s still in the City Council, Richards has introduced legislation mandating the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) to report on where their loans and grants are going.
“That transparency will aid us in the argument of saying the city needs to do better,” he added.
Richards wants to see an expansion of programs like Chamber on the Go, which provides a neighborhood connection from SBS directly to small businesses. He also believes the city should be putting more money into grants instead of loans.
“SBS needs to feel like a permanent footprint in this borough,” he said, “working with businesses, even around regulations with COVID.”
With developments happening all across the borough, from Astoria and Long Island City to Willets Points and the Rockaways, as well as the redevelopment of both airports, Richards said there are many opportunities to leverage public-private partnerships to assist small businesses.
“We have so much to offer, the most exciting development projects are here,” he said. “Don’t shortchange us.”
A successful recovery will also depend on stimulus dollars from the federal government. The councilman said the city needs its congressional representatives, especially in the Senate, to deliver. He hopes the next stimulus package will include dollars for state and local governments to reduce the budget gap.
On a more personal level, Richards urged Queens residents to shop at their local businesses. Despite the rise of online shopping and a shift in consumer behavior, he said locals should get back into the habit of frequenting neighborhood institutions.
While risks with the virus still exist, he believes it’s possible to balance business interests with safety. After all, he said, small businesses are the “lifeblood of our neighborhoods.”
“We want to be healthy and have a healthy economy,” Richards said. “We shouldn’t have to choose.”
Particularly instructive when it comes to recovery is his experience helping the Rockaways recover after Superstorm Sandy.
Richards recalled getting all of the borough’s business development organizations together and urging them to work in unity. Similarly, he wants business improvement districts, chambers of commerce and other groups to come up with a comprehensive plan with recommendations, goals and objectives. They will then work with the city to execute the plan.
As the former chair of the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning, Richards was also at the table for rezonings of many areas, including his own district in Far Rockaway.
He said he leveraged public-private partnerships with developers to build a community center, commercial development, housing, retail, a school and a library. The project included millions of dollars for park space and two new plazas.
“These are the things we’re looking for when you come to sit down with us,” he said.
In other parts of Queens where poverty is entrenched, Richards said they will seek expanded job opportunities and mandate developers to provide monthly job reports.