Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

The New York City Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing passed an ordinance Jan. 28 broadening street vendor permits and local enforcement.

The council met to discuss and vote on legislation bill 1116B which seeks to “[expand] the availability of food vendor permits, [create] an office of street vendor enforcement, and [establish] a street vendor advisory board.”

“This bill would gradually expand the number of permits to vend food on the streets and sidewalks of New York City. A number of new permits, now referred to as supervisory licenses, would be issued in batches each year beginning in 2022 until 2032,” the bill reads.

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The bill will also create a new vending law enforcement unit specifically to enforce vending laws. The unit would focus on areas of the city with known vending enforcement challenges but will respond to vending complaints and violations throughout the city. 

A street vendor advisory board would also be established under the bill. The board would assess the effectiveness of the enforcement unit and the roll-out of new permits, and examine and make recommendations pertaining to vending laws.

The need for this legislation comes as food carts take up public space in New York City, which is already the most densely populated city in the U.S.

The bill seeks to address this issue by regulating the food carts via permits, which would result in the food vendors being enforceable. Under the bill, new permits would not be given out until 2022.

Many of the councilmembers acknowledged the contentious nature of the business of street food vending.

“In spite of its important contributions to the city, street vending in New York is historically contentious,” Councilwoman Diana Ayala said.  

“As the most densely populated city in the country, public space in New York is a rare and valuable commodity. And there are competing demands for this precious resource.” 

Ayala said pedestrians, delivery workers, sidewalk cafes, newsstands, grocery stands, fire hydrants, bus stops, and other items on the streets  “are just some of the elements vying for space on our sidewalks.” 

“Therefore, it is important that when recognizing the value of street vendors and doing what we can to ensure their sustainability, we also balance their needs against the other issues involved,” she said.

Ayala cited a 2012 study that concluded street vendors resulted in more than 16,000 jobs, $78.5 million in wages, and an added $82 million total to the economy. 

“The city’s street vendors are a vital part of New york’s history. They not only enhance the vibrancy of public spaces and increase the sense of community, they have always added to the diversity of the city’s retail and food landscape and they consistently contribute to the city’s economy,” she said.

Councilmember Justin Brannan acknowledged the difficulties in enforcing food carts prior to the new bill.

“Any time I’ve had an issue with an illegal vendor popping up, I’ve had to call in favors to the NYPD or city hall to actually get action taken and mainly because there’s such a mess of rules and regulations that no one agency really knows the rules,” Brannan said during the council meeting.  

“Having a dedicated enforcement unit where you have specially trained agents who can enforce all general food and vending rules is what we’ve needed for a really long time and making sure that this new unit is up and running before we release any new permits just makes a lot of sense,” Brannan said.

Ayala also acknowledged the difficulties street vendors have faced as a result of pandemic-induced restrictions

“Unfortunately, like many industries, street vending has been hit hard by COVID-19. The reduced foot traffic due to lockdown mandates, work-from-home orders, and reduced tourism means that street vendors have lost 80-90% of their usual sales.

Unlike other small businesses and workers who are eligible for acts of government assistance and unemployment, the majority of city street vendors have not qualified for benefits under these programs,” she said.

According to the legislation, the new license will require at least one supervisory licensee to be present at a pushcart anytime it’s open in an effort to limit illegal food carts around the city operating without a permit holder present.

“The issue of these vendor tycoons who live down in Florida and are renting out 10 different trucks up in Brooklyn is insane… It’s gotta end,” Brannan said. 

“We need to get to a place where if you have the permit, you have to be present with the cart. You can’t be leasing it out and paying your workers garbage while you’re out of the state.”

Councilmember Kalman Yeger voted against the bill. Yeger said there hasn’t been “a real crackdown on unlicensed vendors who set up shop right outside of the door of a tax paying establishment.”

“In my view, the enforcement aspect of the bill should take effect first.” Yeger said.

Yeger said he felt that tax-paying brick-and-mortar food establishments should be taken care of first.

Written ByLinn Win

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