Keeping the Lights On

Addressing the rent crisis for small businesses, landlords and lenders

Policy Brief

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shelter-in-place orders have thrown businesses — and especially small businesses — into survival mode. Storefronts are boarded up. Restaurants have pivoted their business models or are desperately hoping to ride out the pandemic with limited tools. Entertainment venues are temporarily or permanently shuttered. These full and partial closures have impacts beyond the businesses themselves. If they’re not open, they’re not making money and are unable to pay their rent.

Landlords who aren’t receiving rent may not be able to pay their mortgages and expenses, subsequently impacting banks and lenders. If businesses don’t get help, it will shock the entire system, with implications not only for owners and workers but also for the local economy, our neighborhoods and our culture. Are there ways to help businesses so that pandemic-induced failures don’t ripple through the real estate and lending industry? Are there ways to strike a balance so that all parties give up something in order to save the whole? In collaboration with small business owners and advocates, this fall SPUR convened a group of people from small business, real estate, banking and government to discuss possible solutions to these challenges. The ideas in this briefing paper stem from those conversations.