Deepti Sharma founded FoodtoEat, a corporate catering concierge service that focuses on minority-run small food businesses, after graduating from Stony Brook University in 2011. A first-generation American, Sharma noticed the struggles small business owners, especially immigrants and women, faced, and how other food apps, such as Seamless and Grubhub, only hindered their growth.
“The approach was: ‘How do we listen to the underrepresented community members?’” she said. “Build a company and put them first.”
Sharma is a vocal advocate for policies that benefit minority communities. She has sat on the board for the Business Center for New Americans, a nonprofit that encourages immigrants to start small businesses, and has written on how larger businesses can lift up their minority workers.
Now, she’s throwing her hat in the Feb. 2 special election for City Council District 24. The position became vacant after former Councilmember Rory Lancman formally resigned to begin a new post as special counsel for ratepayer protection with the Governor’s Office. The winning candidate will serve in the role until Dec. 31, 2021.
Here is where Sharma stands on three key issues.
Providing relief to all members of the community, particularly in the form of rent, eviction and mortgage moratoriums, is a major part for the city’s road to recovery and Sharma’s campaign.
“It’s one of the most important things we think about,” she said. “So many families are being displaced.”
Sharma plans to make relief a priority during the national heath crisis. Extending the moratoriums is just a part of the plan, as well as expanding the Landlord-Tenant Mediation Project for Housing Security, which Mayor de Blasio signed into law in July. The program provides housing security to city tenants facing Covid-19-induced hardship dues, but Sharma would push the requirements further — she hopes to implement legislation that establishes mediation between landlords and tenants in a way that would afford a long-term path to keep them in their homes.
The issue extends to commercial rent as well, especially for small businesses that had struggled to stay within their storefronts even before the pandemic.
“I’ve listened to hundreds of stories that small businesses are constantly being pushed out of their leases,” Sharma said, recalling one in which a landlord only offered his tenant a month- or two-long lease, limiting the business’ ability to build a strong future. The tenant ultimately decided to shut down.
Creating laws that allow tenants to renew leases for longer periods of time, such as 10 years, that would prohibit substantial rent hikes could be a vital part to sustaining small businesses, she said.
“We want to make sure we’re reinvesting into the community,” Sharma said.
Though rent relief would greatly alleviate the woes of small business owners, there is much more Sharma believes they need, and that the City Council could provide, to get back on their feet.
Transforming sales tax that restaurants pay into grants could be the resource officials have been seeking as way to assist the small businesses in their struggle to pay for supplies, employee wages and other accumulating expenses.
“I’ve been trying to be creative as to how we think about how to help small business,” Sharma said.
Small businesses in District 24 have especially been hindered by the pandemic, she said, because there isn’t a commercial hub like those that can be found in other areas of the city, such as Bell Boulevard in Bayside or Steinway Street in Astoria.
“People come here and they sleep. They come here and they go home ... When they go out and eat ... they go elsewhere. I don’t see a real amount of economy here,” she said, questioning how to encourage higher patronage in the neighborhoods.
One of her campaign focuses would be to establish public-private partnerships that would increase access to startup capital and encourage entrepreneurship or establishing permanent Superblocks, which would make it easier for pedestrians to access the commercial hubs.
As part of the city’s Open Streets/ Open Restaurants program, select corridors were permitted to expand their outdoor dining into the streets, which was closed off to traffic, and Sharma promises to fight to bring the program to District 24 whose small businesses would greatly benefit from the increased retail it would bring.
A small business owner herself, Sharma is also firm supporter of the One Fair Wage initiative which would raise the minimum wage to $15 across the country. The city had already raised the minimum wage to said amount in December 2019.
Sharma’s son attends PS 201, the same elementary school she attended, but unlike for hers, he took his first-day-of-class photograph in front of his iPad in the family’s home. The learning tool, however, is not a luxury other families, or even some of her son’s own classmates, have been afforded during the pandemic.
“They don’t have access to technology or iPads and Wi-Fi. The city has to make sure they have access to it,” she said, adding that the technological barrier is exacerbated for immigrant communities who are already experiencing a language, and sometimes economic, barrier.
Building additional community facilities, centers, gardens, job centers and public pools is another major point of Sharma’s campaign. She grew up taking classes at the Pomonok Community Center and recognizes what a limited experience it is for other members of the district.
The new facilities she hopes to establish would equip community members with job training, afterschool child supervision and a focal point for neighbors to congregate. Additionally, it would provide a resource for residents to stay informed and engaged with their community.
“Inequities exist and we need to lead with empathy,” she said. “Our over arching theme is accessibility and reinvesting ... What can we do to help? It’s about making sure they have what they need.”