Food vendors rally at City Hall over cap on permits

More than 100 people gathered outside City Hall Tuesday, frustrated by the city’s cap on special food and vending permits.

While the city has issued more than 17,600 food vendor licenses, only vendors with one of 4,100 special permits can have a food cart on the street.

Due to the cap, new businesses must rent them from vendors who already have them. A permit, which costs about $200 from the city, can rent for up to $20,000 for two years, according to The Street Vendor Project.

Vendors said that many permits are owned by people who don’t even operate a food cart. 

“What this city is doing is shameful,” said Julio Morales, who has rented his permit for 14 years. “They are supporting this permit renting mafia by not doing anything about it.”

On Tuesday, a group of about 150 people carried banners and balloons for the rally, organized by The Street Vendor Project. “Mas permisos, mas licensias,” they chanted — translating to more permits, more licenses.

There are also about 1,000 seasonal permits issued for mobile food vending, valid from April to October, according to the mayor’s office.

Delmy Zelaya is an unauthorized vendor who has been selling Latin-American sweets for three years. She said she felt the consequences of being caught without the coveted permit.

“They pay $200 to renew the permit, and then just turn around and rent it out to the highest bidder,” Zelaya said. “If you’re caught without one, you get fined $1000 or more. I’ve been fined many times.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said the administration was “evaluating” the issue.

A spokesman for Councilmember Rafael Espinal, who represents several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and serves as the chairman of the Committee on Consumer Affairs, said that Espinal met with street vendor representatives and was aware of their demands. The Council is working on legislation to address the vendors’ concerns, but details have not been finalized, he added.

Vendors can apply for a permit through the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

But for those applicants lucky enough to get through, they are often put on a waiting list. And the wait could last years, according to The Street Vendor Project.

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