Dozens of street vendors joined elected officials at a City Hall rally Thursday, demanding the City Council pass legislation that will expand vendor permits and create an Office of Street Vendor Enforcement to totally remove the NYPD from writing vendor summonses for good.
The legislation, Intro 1116, would lift a decades-old cap on-street permits, adding thousands of new permits. The bill, pending in the City Council, would also create a new office of Street Vendor Enforcement to replace the NYPD, who disbanded the Peddler Task Force. NYPD officials say that while they no longer have the task-force, they still, “respond to 311 service requests and 911 calls related to vendors.”
The rally, organized by the Street Vendor Project and the Urban Justice Center, is the second such rally, the other held in August in Times Square sought to convince Council Speaker Corey Johnson to move the legislation to a vote. Johnson continues to stymie that effort as some council members believe increasing vendors would harm already struggling brick and mortar businesses who were forced to close and are struggling to pay rents.
Some vendors at the rally which was held next to the Municipal Building across from City Hall, say they have received summonses from police for illegal vending. Vendors and elected officials called on the city to completely remove the NYPD from that role, something that the legislation will accomplish.
In 1983, the City Council placed hard restrictions on the number of mobile food vending permits in existence, capping the number at roughly 4,000. The cap was spurred by retail restaurants and delis who said at the time that street vendors were taking business from them, undercutting them, but were not paying rent or proper taxes to the city. In addition, some areas were becoming inundated with on street vendors.
This restriction reduced the existing number of permits by more than half, leading to waiting lists that now stretch as long as 20 years. In addition, an underground market in vending permits sprung up, whereby permits, which are renewable every two years for $200, are trade for up to $25,000. At the same time, thousands of vendors sell food without permits simply because they are unable to get one, risking heavy fines and arrest. Vendors and their leaders say that the fines are even more burdensome during the Covid-19 pandemic – many of those vendors became unemployed during the virus spread and sought to do vending to make ends meet.
Leaders say street vendors are important to the city economy, but Speaker Johnson has not yet called the legislation to a vote. Councilwoman Margaret Chin said at the rally that they have “more than enough votes to approve the legislation and even survive a potential mayoral veto.”
“As New Yorker’s struggle through the worst of the pandemic, street vendors provided a lifeline of affordable culturally competent meals throughout the five boroughs,” she said. “It’s unacceptable that our city has not yet given street vendors the support and economic relief they deserve. It’s time to pass Intro 1116 and ensure that New York City’s recovery includes these essential immigrant workers.”
Councilman Carlos Menchaca echoed her view on the legislation and said vendors add “economic power” to the city.
“Instead of targeting them with arbitrary enforcement that result in crushing fines, we must support these visionary entrepreneurs,” he said. “That is why I support street vendors and Intro 1116 to gradually lift the decades-long cap on vendor licenses, create a unit dedicated to fair and balanced vendor enforcement of the law, and bring street vendors to the policy making table through the establishment of a citywide Street Advisory Board.”
Menchaca said that the current system forces people to be “forced to work in a broken underground system – having no choice but to lease licenses for tens of thousands of dollars just to be granted an opportunity to work.”
State Senator Jessica Ramos was equally strident in her support of the legislation.
“The lack of permits available for vendors has created a black market that hinders opportunity, especially for so many of our undocumented neighbors who currently have no other means to make ends meet, – no stimulus check, no unemployment insurance,” she said. “Every single person has the right to provide for themselves and every New Yorker should be encouraged to innovate, create and invest in our economy without being criminalized.”
Several vendors spoke at the rally, including Nabil Boussbaa, a 46-year-old Moroccan who is supporting a wife and 5-year-old boy.
“I am not the owner of the food cart, I work on the cart for daily payment and I don’t have a permit because the city stopped giving permits,” he said. “I have been waiting for the city to help us or give us permits as they promised us for many years, but unfortunately I’m still waiting.”
He said the police have given him fines, one for $500 because he was too close to a crosswalk.
“I have just returned to work after six months without any work, and my income for the whole week can barely reach $300 because the business is not doing well as the usual customers don’t come to work yet and school next to me is closed. When the police come, they don’t talk to us with respect – if there is any violation, the police are supposed to help in order to fix the mistake not to penalize us with a $500 fine.”
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson responded with this statement:
“Speaker Johnson is aware of how important street vendors are to our economy and our city. At a time when we are facing a dire economic crisis, street vendors offer affordable food options for New Yorker’s, and the jobs they provide are a lifeline for immigrants New Yorker’s. He is working towards finding ways to help this vital industry.”