The city is weeks behind schedule to open thousands of new street vendor permits – while outdoor vendors and their advocates say a brand new process, meant to be more inclusive, will actually drive vendors to the black market .
New permit application was due to open July 1, per ‘history’ City council legislation which was passed with much fanfare in early 2021. The law aims to increase the number of full-time legal street vendors in the city for the first time in nearly 40 years, issuing hundreds of new permits each year during the next 10 years.
But nearly two weeks after the deadline, the system is still not in place, thanks in part to a delayed public hearing on the new rules held just the day before the deadline.
“The Department is reviewing the comments and working to finalize the rule,” wrote Michael Lanza, spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which oversees food cart licensing.
The number of mobile food vending licenses is currently capped at 5,100: this includes 2,800 full-time citywide licenses — which have not changed since 1983 — 100 licenses for veterans and persons with disabilities, 200 borough-specific permits, 1,000 seasonal permits and 1,000 permits for fruits and vegetables only.
In this city of nearly 9 million people, those numbers are far below demand, which has created an underground market system where vendors often pay thousands of dollars a year to lease existing permits.
The legislation called for 445 food sales permits to be issued each year for 10 years, more than doubling the total by the next decade.
The new batch of permits is separated into citywide and non-Manhattan permits — with 300 for outer boroughs and 45 for disabled veterans each year. The 200 borough-specific permits under current regulations would be maintained. It is generally assumed that almost everyone who obtains a citywide permit will settle in Manhattan.
Other changes include requiring the permit holder to always be present at the cart, an effort to eliminate the black market of selling or renting existing permits at exorbitant prices.
The new law also transferred enforcement of street vending rules from the NYPD to the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection – although the agency works with police, according to a spokesperson.
“Selling is a complicated issue that affects all of us – from vendors themselves to local businesses to residents and visitors,” spokeswoman Abigail Lootens said in a statement. “In an effort to strike a fair balance in the use of sidewalks, the DCWP sometimes enlists the support of the NYPD in areas where non-compliance is significant and repeated, including where inspectors have been threatened with violence.
But at a health department hearing on June 30, several providers expressed concern about the new changes, including separate waiting lists for outdoor borough permits — and feared that even if they received a permit, the new system does not allow them to stay in their current location.
“I don’t have a license and had rented one until the pandemic hit,” Samya Eskandar, who has been selling for 15 years, said in testimony at the hearing. She said the cost of renting her license had increased during the pandemic – and she didn’t want to risk losing customers at her current location.
“I’ve worked in Manhattan most of my time as a salesperson and I don’t want to move anywhere else,” she said.
The new rule will remove names from the waitlist, with the first 100 people chosen receiving citywide permits.
Advocates and providers are calling for separate waiting lists so people have a chance to stay where they’ve been. They also denounce the fact that only people on the waiting list before the March 1, 2017 deadline are allowed to obtain permits – which means that new sellers, especially those who have turned to selling carts streets during the pandemic, can still use the black market.
“It would be unfair for me to be denied this opportunity to be on the waiting list to hopefully one day have my own supervisory license,” Sarai Rodriguez, who operates a taco cart on 31st and Sixth Avenue but missed the deadline, the hearing said.
Mohamed Attia, director of advocacy group Street Vendor Project, told THE CITY he believes DOHMH’s interpretation of the new law will perpetuate exploitation of the resale market.
“This puts a lot of people who are on the waiting list for a citywide permit in a very difficult position – especially those who run a business in Manhattan and who have dealt with the underground market and paid under the table,” he told THE CITY.
“Now these people could just be in a place where they are offered to take an outdoor borough permit or none and lose their chance to operate legally,” Attia added.
In May, Mayor Eric Adams unveiled a series of recommendations from an advisory council aimed at further modernizing the street vendor licensing process — with the goal of creating even more legal opportunities for vendors across the city. .
“Together we can balance the needs of street vendors, physical businesses and residents,” he said at the time.
The recommendationswhich the mayor’s office said it began implementing in May, includes “repealing criminal liability for general and mobile food vendors” and ordering the Department of Transportation to identify new locations in the city for vendors to set up, including pedestrian plazas and paid parking spots.
But some street vendors fear they will have to choose between selling with their own legal license or losing their prime spot.
Sherif Baioumy said he started selling in 2004 and had been on the waiting list for a permit in his own name since 2007 when places opened up. But he fears he won’t receive a license to sell in Manhattan.
“It’s unfair that after waiting this long and having clients this long, I’m getting an outdoor borough permit,” he said at the June 30 hearing.