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Decades-Old Cap on Street Vendor Permits Lifted by City Council

New York City Council voted to increase the number of permits available to street vendors by 400 a year until 2032
Screenshot 2021-01-29 at 15.33.41
Photo: Nicki Mannix/Pxhere.

New York City will see 4,000 more street vendors selling goods on city streets over the next ten years, after a City Council vote Thursday to reform the decades-old system.

Councilmembers voted 34-13 in favor of the bill, which also creates a separate law enforcement agency to oversee the vending community, rather than the ad-hoc policing it had faced in the past.

Those voting against the bill said the increase in vendor permits would hurt the city's brick-and-mortar restaurant industry, with Councilmember Mark Gjonaj saying the bill would hurt restaurants already decimated by the pandemic.

However, CUNY's Urban Food Policy Institute Director Nicholas Freudenberg told Gothamist he wasn't aware of any evidence suggesting that street vendors negatively impact small brick-and-mortar businesses.

Councilmember Margaret Chin, who first introduced the legislation in 2018, said the bill would put an end to the underground market that currently preyed on hardworking food vendors, the majority of whom are immigrant entrepreneurs.

"The gradual release of new permits in tandem with the creation of a dedicated enforcement unit protects those who are already vending and creates a streamlined and transparent system for vendors, businesses, and the public," she said.

"Food vendors have always been part of New York City's small business community; in fact, many successful restaurants started their business from a food cart. Vendors contribute to the vibrancy and diversity of our city and they deserve to make a living in a legal, dignified way."

Since 1983, the number of food vending permits in the city has been capped at 3,000, despite high demand and the formation of a "black-market," where permit subleases can go for as high as $20,000.

The new legislation requires a permit holder must be always present at the cart. By 2032, all permits — existing and new — will transfer to this system, closing the loophole that led to the widespread and illegal practice of renting the permits.

Of the 400 new permits issues each year, 100 will allow Manhattan vending (or vending in any other borough). The rest allow for vending in other boroughs outside of Manhattan.

The legislation also creates a dedicated unit to enforce street vending laws, with a focus on locations where street vending is plentiful and congestion issues persist and an advisory board to oversee the unit.

The board includes representatives for street vendors, the small business community, workers at retail food stores, property owners and community organizations, as well from city agencies (Consumer and Worker Protection, Transportation and Health and Mental Hygiene).

The city's Green Carts program would also be expanded to increase options for selling healthy food throughout the city.

Urban Justice Center's Street Vendor Project Director Mohamed Attia said history had been made yesterday.

"We've never pitted street vendors against brick-and-mortar restaurants. We support everyone thriving together."