A group of City Council members have banded together to introduce a package of bills that would overhaul the city’s street vendor system to bring thousands of unlicensed vendors into compliance with city law.
The centerpiece of the legislative slate would kickstart a phased five-year process that would culminate in lifting the city’s cap on street vendors licenses, which critics say has led to the criminalization of vendors who have no path to operating legally.
“We are one of the only cities in the United States of America that arbitrarily caps vending in the way that we do. And so the solution lies in business licensing. It lies in decriminalization,” said Bronx Council Member Pierina Sanchez, the daughter of street vendors.
Hundreds of street vendors donned bright yellow beanies and broke out into chants of “vendor power” at a rally in support of the legislation on Wednesday. One vendor, Ibra Diagne, addressed the crowd, saying that his dream is to get his own general license so that he can “work without fear” but he’s been on the waiting list for six years.
“My number is 7,642 on the waitlist,” he said.
The platform consists of four critical pieces of legislation introduced by Council Members Sanchez, Amanda Farias, Shekar Krishnan, Carmen De La Rosa and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, which would change penalties for noncompliance, expand the department of Small Business Services and alter street rules for vendors in addition to amending the licensing process.
The Council has tried to address the issue before. In 2021, it passed legislation mandating 445 licenses every year for a decade, but the city has reportedly failed to meet those benchmarks since the law was implemented. It had only created 14 licenses this year as of November, according to City Comptroller Brad Lander.
“The city has missed every single deadline,” Lander said.
A Health Department spokesperson said that as of early December, the licensing process has begun for over 100 applicants, but only 50 of those have so far received the permit.
Sanchez told amNewYork Metro that even if the city were implementing that bill correctly it would not go far enough.
“That would be nowhere near meeting the demand and the reality of what’s out there,” she said. “I’ve seen estimates that upwards of 80% of street vendors out there today do not have licenses.”
The licensing component of the package, introduced by Sanchez and Farias, would require the release of 1,500 minimum food vendor licenses and 1,500 merchandise licenses per year for five consecutive years, after which the city would have to make both types of licenses available to all applicants.
The second part of the legislation would turn what is now a criminal summons for unlicensed street vending into a civil penalty with a fine of up to $1,000. The third piece would create a new division of the Department of Small Business Service to provide help and resources for vendors. The fourth would clarify the rules around where vendors can be located on the sidewalk.
As far as the political outlook for the legislation, Sanchez said that the issue of vending can be complicated for certain council members, but that she was heartened that the central Council staff had worked with its proponents to get the bill drafted, and that they were getting a hearing next week.
“We’ll see how our fellow Council members react and we’ll try to go from there,” she said.