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City Six Months Behind Schedule for New Street Vendor Permits

Street vendors rallying for the council’s reform package in 2020. Photo: John McCarten, New York City Council

The city is more than half a year late on rolling out hundreds of new street vending permits, leaving the sidewalk food sellers in limbo as cops and inspectors have scaled up enforcement.

In July, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene was supposed to start issuing 445 new permits every year until 2032, under a City Council law passed two years ago to reform the industry, but the agency hasn't moved beyond creating wait lists in November.

Thousands of vendors have been eager for years to get permits, which have been capped by law for decades.

"I’m not trusting the city anymore," said Sherif Bayoumi, the owner of a halal truck on Sixth Avenue and W. 48th Street who has been waiting since 2007.

Selling food from carts in the Big Apple requires a vendor license as well as a permit for a unit, such as a pushcart or truck.

There has been a decades-long cap of 5,100 permits, but there could be as many as 20,000 sellers citywide, according to estimates by the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center.

That means that many hawk grub like hotdogs and roasted nuts without a permit, or they rent one on the underground market at a steep premium.

Bayoumi said he shells out a whopping $20,000 every two years to rent one under the table. The actual permit costs $200 for two years for those lucky to get one through the city.

"This is not fair," he said. "I need my permit, man."

In early 2021, the city enacted Local Law 18 requiring officials to add more than 4,000 new permits by 2032, or 445 a year, while also moving enforcement from the NYPD to the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (formerly known as the Department of Consumer Affairs), and creating a panel to recommend policy changes around street vendors.

DCWP began handing out summonses in June 2021, and about a year after that a report came out from the newly minted Street Vendor Advisory Board outlining proposals to relax some vending regulations.

Local Law 18 requires the city to begin issuing the new permits "on or after" July 1, 2022, and officials with the Health Department, the agency in charge of the licenses, blamed the delay on making changes recommended by the public.

But DOH waited nearly a year-and-a-half after the law's passage until the day before that deadline to even hold a hearing, which showed that the city was no hurry to prepare for the rollout, according to Mohamed Attia, the director of the Street Vendor Project.

"Seventeen months and you can’t create a process for a new permit — this is like insane," said Attia.

Of the new 445 permits each year, 100 are for selling citywide, 300 are just for the boroughs outside of Manhattan, and another 45 are reserved for people with disabilities and United States veterans.

DOH initially wanted to create one wait list for all applicants, according to Attia, but sellers and advocates pushed to create separate ones so they would be able to choose to wait either for a citywide or a non-Manhattan permit.

A third wait list for people with disabilities and veterans is set to open some time this year.

Longtime food vendor M.D. Rahman was booted from the Brooklyn Bridge, but he was back last week. Photo: Kevin Duggan
Longtime food vendor M.D. Rahman was booted from the Brooklyn Bridge, but he was back last week. Photo: Kevin Duggan
Longtime food vendor M.D. Rahman was booted from the Brooklyn Bridge, but he was back last week. Photo: Kevin Duggan

Some 10,000 people are currently on the two existing lists, more than twice the amount of permits the city plans to add over the next decade. A Health Department spokesperson said the agency would start issuing the permits "in the coming weeks."

"The Health Department is in the process of notifying roughly 10,000 vendors of their place on the new supervisory license waiting lists and will begin issuing the first license applications in the coming weeks," said Patrick Gallahue in a statement.

Meanwhile summonses have skyrocketed as NYPD ticketed vendors at nearly double the rate in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic, going against a pledge by former Mayor Bill de Blasio to remove New York's Finest from enforcement.

Police issued 2,469 vending-related tickets during the first nine months of 2022, up from 1,462 summonses during the same time in 2019, a Streetsblog analysis of the NYPD's latest quarterly summons reports found.

That’s more than nine summonses a day last year compared to about five a day pre-pandemic — nearly double the rate.

DCWP agents issued 1,805 violations during all of 2022, according to an agency spokesman, or just under five per day.

"Having this office going out around the clock targeting vendors, writing them fines, sometimes even partnering with the NYPD and seizing people’s properties and merchandise, and we don’t see any investment happening on creating the new system and creating the new permits, which is really disappointing for us to see," Attia said.

Two weeks ago, officers with the NYPD's Fifth Precinct booted vendors the Brooklyn Bridge's increasingly busy pedestrian path — whether they had permits or not — including some that had been there for years, per orders from the mayor, the sellers said.

Meanwhile, Bayoumi, the Midtown vendor, is worried that obtaining a legal permit is taking so long that he may be retired long before he gets one.

"When I get to take this permit I don’t like to work in this job anymore because it’s a very, very hard job — not easy," he told Streetsgblog.

The city under Mayor Adams has missed many deadlines and benchmarks established by law. Last week, Streetsblog reported that the Sanitation Department had delayed the Council-mandated program to reform the rogue private carting industry. And late last year, Streetsblog reported that the city had failed to reach a legal requirement to build 20 miles of protected bus lanes and 30 miles of protected bike lanes in 2022.

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