Mayoral Musings: Lease Assistance

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Starting April 1, businesses in Bridgeton, Vineland, Millville, and Salem may be eligible to apply.

When it comes to policies and programs, whether on the local level, statewide or at the federal level, there are multiple ways to measure value. Some policies or programs are grand in scope and seek to address some huge problem or deficiency. Others are more for show, meant to give the appearance of movement without costing too much time or money. A few however, are modest in size and scope and lean toward practicality and efficiency. Being familiar with the glacial pace of bureaucracy, the latter ones are those I am most hopeful about.

Modest and practical is exactly how I would describe the Small Business Lease Assistance Program, which was previously known as the Business Lease Incentive program (BLI) along with a companion program known as the Business Improvement Incentive (BII), both administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA).

Government agency abbreviations notwithstanding, the Small Business Lease Assistance Program helps by reimbursing businesses and nonprofits 15 percent of their yearly lease payments for two years out of a minimum five-year lease term when renting market-rate, first-floor space (retail, office, or industrial). A business can lease more than 5,000 square feet, but the reimbursement only applies up to 5,000 square feet.

The program is part of the portfolio that Governor Murphy and the EDA team are assembling to help small businesses—those that are unique to a community in contrast to the massive big box chain stores that dot the landscape nationally.

The program, created back in 2017, initially included Atlantic City, Trenton, Camden, Passaic, and Paterson. But starting April 1, the program will add Bridgeton, Vineland, Millville, Salem, Jersey City, Mt. Holly, Plainfield, and Phillipsburg and proceed within the framework of a three-year pilot program to be evaluated accordingly.

As for the details, Bridgeton and the other communities will have $100,000 per community per year made available so that qualified businesses in each community can, if approved, get some relief on their lease. On a side note, if a business received assistance through Grow NJ or the ERG program, they will not be eligible for this program.

Applicants to the program must operate their business within the leased space for the full year under which the reimbursement is being requested. The application fee is $500 for a business and $250 for nonprofit entities. Landlords and tenants cannot be related and assistance is a one-time thing. It’s not a huge chunk of money, but it helps and you don’t have to give your firstborn to get it.

The companion program, Business Improvement Incentive (BII)—which offers grants of 50 percent of a project’s total cost up to $20,000 to businesses making at least $5,000 in improvements—is being discontinued as of June 28. This is being done to properly fund lease assistance and because they’ve learned what works best through pilot programs and adjusted accordingly.

As an aside, appearances matter as do first impressions and improving curb appeal in these communities, particularly facades and signage, would help resource-challenged downtowns with revitalization. Perhaps a grant program narrowly defined for facades and signage might be a future pilot option.

One important aspect of the approach taken here by Governor Murphy and EDA Chief Tim Sullivan is that the EDA team will coordinate with the municipalities involved on the best strategies for rolling out the program in each community and identifying key areas in which to focus resources such as designated redevelopment areas and commercial corridors. This matters because every community is unique with its own characteristics and nuances.

Actionable and practical pilot programs are a smart approach to finding out what works. Rather than massive programs with gaudy numbers, long timelines, and fuzzy metrics that leave us uncertain as to whether a program worked, we have modest investments with simple metrics and if it doesn’t work, we try something else without having lost eye-popping sums of money. That’s no small thing when talking about government.

Heading toward the April 1 start date, we’ll be coordinating with the EDA team and I encourage small businesses that believe they might qualify, both in Bridgeton and in the other participating communities, to visit the NNEDA webpage at to find out more.


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