New vendor rules: Who gains?

The City Council is considering new measures to reform NYC’s nonsensical regulations for street vendors.

Since 1983, there has been a strict cap on vendor permits, leading many to operate without one, making them targets of police and city inspectors. That prompted many vendors to rent black market permits for small fortunes.

For a city whose history and identity are synonymous with street vending, the way vendors have been backed into a wall is disgraceful. Enter the “progressive” City Council to save the day. Or will it?

The proposed initiatives, known collectively as the Street Vending Modernization Act, will be debated later this month.

The measures won’t lift the cap, but gradually would allow 600 more vendors to legally sell food, eventually doubling the number of permits, but also raising the cost of two-year permits from $200 to $1,000.

But, there’s troubling language about a vendor-law enforcement unit and an advisory panel to ensure the rules are followed.

Enforcement has been a problem for vendors, most of whom are working-class immigrants and people of color. Will the legislation lead to more ticketing and arrests of vendors who aren’t lucky enough to get a new permit? And who will be on that panel? Will it be composed of vendors or big-business voices who want to stifle vendors with red tape?

Despite news of a possible solution to the long-standing isssue, there is one problem. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito decried “unscrupulous permit-holders” instead of focusing on business improvement districts that have been hell-bent on capping the permits.

During a council hearing on Thursday, there were mixed responses from advocacy groups. “This proposal is not everything we wanted, but if it get passed into law, it will be a big step forward for thousands of vendors who want to work legally,” said Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vendor Project.

While an increase in permits is welcomed, who would get them? Would it be gentrifying hipster-peneurs or the largely immigrant-majority world of vendors?

Let’s hope the devil is not in the details.

Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.

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