New York City Council Reforms Street Vendor System

Photo credit: Isseu Diouf Campbell

The New York City Council voted on a historic legislation, sponsored by Council Member Margaret Chin, to mandate significant reforms to the street vendor system January 28, 2021.

“Introduction 1116 finally puts an end to the underground market that currently preys on hardworking food vendors, the majority of whom are immigrant entrepreneurs,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. “The gradual release of new permits in tandem with the creation of a dedicated enforcement unit protects those who are already vending and creates a streamlined and transparent system for vendors, businesses, and the public.”

“Vendors are essential workers who ensured NYC’s hard-hit neighborhoods had access to fresh, affordable food throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said advocacy group Street Vendor Project. “Annually, they generate an estimated $71.2 million in local, state, and federal taxes, and contribute nearly $293 million to the city’s economy. Despite powerful lobbying from big business interests, the City Council chose justice, restoring dignity to our beloved food vendors.”

The number of food vending permits has been capped at 3,000 since 1983, despite high demand. The cap has prevented talented, hard-working individuals from entering this classic NYC small business industry and also led to a thriving illegal-market for the permits.

The legislation provides new opportunities to legally vend and addresses concerns regarding the lack of effective enforcement of vending laws.

Starting July 2022, the legislation allows for the release of 400 food vending permits a year for ten years. Of the 400 each year, 100 permits allow Manhattan vending (or vending in any other borough if they choose). The rest allow for vending in other boroughs outside of Manhattan.

The legislation requires that a permit holder must be always present at the cart. By 2032, all permits—existing and new – will transfer to this system. This new requirement will close the loophole that has led to widespread and illegal practice of renting the permits for thousands of dollars.

A dedicated unit will be established to enforce street vending laws, with a focus on locations where street vending is plentiful and congestion issues persist.

The legislation creates an advisory board to monitor the enforcement unit, oversee new permit roll-out, and make recommendations to both the Council and the Mayor on issues related to vending. The board includes representatives for street vendors, the small business community, workers at retail food stores, property owners and community organizations, as well from city agencies (includes Consumer and Worker Protection, Transportation, and Health and Mental Hygiene).

The city’s Green Carts program will also be expanded to increase options for selling healthy food throughout the city.

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