Street vendors call on city to lift cap on permits

street vendors
Mohamed Attia, from Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project, led a rally Nov. 12 for the passage of a City Council bill to increase the number of vendor permits issued.
Photo by Mark Hallum

One year after a video showing the arrest of a female churro seller went viral, street vendors took to the streets to urge the City Council to increase the number of vendor permits issued and to end police harassment of vendors.

More than 200 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to Lower Manhattan on Nov. 12 in support of the City Council’s Intro. 1116, which would lift the cap on the number of vendors issued permits citywide.

The cap, which has been in place since 1983, only allows for 4,000 vendor permits to be issued citywide — leaving many immigrant vendors without permits and vulnerable to arrest. 

Councilman Carlos Menchaca, who sponsored the bill, has pushed Mayor Bill de Blasio to work with other elected officials since 2018 to get the legislation signed into law. 

“What we’re asking for is the opportunity for legal permits to go to thousands of more vendors, this is part of what we need to do in our recovery,” Menchaca said. “If you walked and talked with any of these vendors, many of them are hungry right now without the support of the city, the state or the federal government and all that is stopping us right now is a vote in the City Council.”

According to Mohamed Attia from the Urban Justice Center, as many as 20,000 people may be selling food and other goods in the streets of the five boroughs — legally or illegally.

“The city has failed in regulating street vending. The city has failed in supporting street vendors, the most marginalized small businesses in our city didn’t get any support before COVID, during COVID or after COVID,” Attia said. “Intro. 1116 will be the first step in the right direction … It is only one step in a very long road.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also spoke during the demonstration, and emphasized the $293 million contribution street vendors make to the city’s economy.

The city has already planned to reform how it polices street vendors. Last spring, Mayor Bill de Blasio formed a task force to decide which NYPD duties should be delegated to other agencies, and the task force suggested that street vendor enforcement should be regulated by a civilian agency. 

“Street vendor enforcement should no longer be the responsibility of the NYPD,” de Blasio said in June. “They should not have to engage the NYPD as they’re trying to make their livelihoods. Civilian agencies can work on proper enforcement and that’s what we’ll do going forward.”

But NYPD is not the only agency accused of treating street vendors with a heavy hand.

In April 2019, 300 vendors won a settlement against the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene after the agency fined them and destroyed their carts after issuing them violations. 

The Thursday rally, which Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Councilwoman Margaret Chin also attended, featured fresh food from the vendors in attendance, as well as music by a mariachi band and traditional Mexican dancing.

This article first appeared on AMNY.com