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Comptroller: Hey Eric Adams, What Happened to All Those Street Vendor Licenses We Were Promised?

After shocking sweeps, there's been little movement on getting street vendors licenses.

9:53 AM EDT on September 12, 2023

(Hell Gate)

For decades, New York's street vendors have been stuck in limbo. The City's cap on the number of licenses for street vendors is still stuck at 5,100, the same number it's been since the Koch administration. Like taxi medallions, this artificial limit has created a gray market where street vendors have had to shell out thousands of dollars to buy a permit, or face the prospect of fines or arrests if they continue to sell on the street without a license. In 2021, the City Council finally addressed this longstanding logjam, empowering the City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to issue 445 new street vendor licenses each year, for the next decade. That was supposed to start in July 2022. But under Mayor Eric Adams, the number of new licenses that have been issued is way less than 445. According to reporting by CBS New York, in fiscal year 2023, which began last July and ended this summer, the City issued only four new licenses. The City has now blown two licensing deadlines that City Hall was supposed to meet under the law, according to Comptroller Brad Lander, as the waitlist for permits continues to grow. 

Now, Lander has some questions for City Hall, especially as the Adams administration continues its scorched-earth approach to street vendors. In a letter sent last week to the Adams administration and obtained by Hell Gate, Lander pressed the mayor about the holdup in issuing new licenses.

"I am concerned that the slow pace of implementation of this legislation and the simultaneous escalation in enforcement actions are failing the city’s street vendors, many of whom are women, people of color, and immigrants," Lander wrote in the letter. "This lack of accessible permitting forces workers into an informal economy, rather than expanding legal work opportunities and promoting a functioning regulatory system of vending."

The comptroller also asked City Hall for information regarding enforcement actions and outreach by the City's Small Business Services division, which is supposed to help formalize the city's oft-targeted informal economy as part of the 2021 law. 

Since Adams took office, enforcement of street vendors has skyrocketed—with three times as many tickets being given to street vendors as compared to 2019. In July, Hell Gate broke the story of the Adams administration ordering the clearance of the popular Corona Plaza street vendor market, citing trash and public nuisance complaints. This crackdown came as Adams's own Department of Transportation was in the midst of seeking a workaround to convert Corona Plaza into a market where a street vendor license wouldn't be required. 

Last week, over thirty community organizations called on the DOT to move quickly to issue a request for proposal to contract with an organization to run the Corona Plaza market. At the same time, they asked the City to issue more licenses and to remove the current licensing cap. 

"Entrepreneurship should be supported and regulated, not wiped out," the organizations wrote. "[The vendors] want fairness, cleanliness, and legal ways to earn a living in their neighborhood, just like anyone else."

A Department of Transportation spokesperson told Hell Gate they are expecting to release the RFP in the next few weeks. 

City Hall did not respond to a request for comment about Lander's letter and the pace of the license rollout. 

Comptroller Lander has requested that City Hall respond to his questions regarding the almost non-existent license rollout by September 20. 

"For too long, the City’s approach to street vendors has been overly restrictive, preventing our city’s smallest businesses from acquiring the permits needed to formalize their businesses and contribute to our city coffers," Lander wrote, continuing that the City has been "failing to implement constructive regulatory enforcement without resorting to overly punitive measures."

Some links we're handing out without a permit, come at us NYPD: 

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