Nov. 9, 2015 By Michael Florio
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland hopes to combat a citywide cap on street vendor permits that has led to a black market.
Currently there is a cap on the number of street vendor permits issued in New York City, which has led to many permit holders selling their permits on a secondary market for thousands of dollars.
Ferreras-Copeland said a city permit that costs $200 every two years can sell for $20,000 to $30,000 on what she and many others call the black market. This black market takes advantage of vendors, many of whom are immigrants in Jackson Heights and Corona, according to the Councilwoman.
“This cap allows these permit holders, many of which live in other states, to take advantage of these immigrants,” she said.
As a result, Ferreras-Copeland is co-sponsoring legislation with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito that would increase the number of permits issued by the city. The legislation is in the early stages of being drafted, but Ferreras-Copeland said discussions on whether the permit cap should be lifted altogether or gradually increase over time have taken place.
“This is an opportunity to reform a system that has been broken for a long time,” Ferreras-Copeland said.
She added that this legislation would allow vendors to make an honest living, while taking money out of this black market and putting it back into the city.
Ferreras-Copeland said this issue has been brought to her attention by vendors, business owners and constituents in her district. She said one vendor she knows purchased a permit for $27,000 from a permit holder that lives in Florida.
Leslie Ramos, Executive Director of the 82d Street Partnership, said she wants to see an increase in the number of permits issued, but it must go hand in hand with increased regulations and enforcement.
“We already have a lot of vendors in Jackson Heights,” she said. “There are already areas that are very crowded and tough to walk by, and more vendors would just add to that congestion.”
However, she said she does believe that if regulations are properly put in place, the permit increase would be a great benefit for the community.
“Vendors would be able to operate legally and the money would stay in the community, not go to someone living out of state,” she said.
Ferreras-Copeland said the legislation would also better regulate the vendors.
One measure being discussed would limit where vendors could set up shop. For example, Ferreras-Copeland said, the rules might prevent five fruit vendors from working on the same block, or a fruit vendor from setting up in front of a fruit store.
“We have to regulate vendors without hurting the brick and mortar [businesses] in our community,” she said.
This is a concern for Ramos as well. She said there has to be fair competition for vendors and store owners.
“We don’t want to create an environment where we have vendors who can undercut prices and our shops have to close,” she said.
Ferreras-Copeland also believes an agency should be put in place to monitor vendors, so it is not the responsibility of the NYPD.
Jordi Loaeza, owner of the popular Midtown food truck Mexico Blvd, shut down his food truck earlier this month due to the street vendor permitting system.
Loaeza was paying $25,000 every two years to obtain his permit in the black market. He said that with the added fees of parking tickets and permits with the Health Department, he was paying more than the rent for his brick and mortar restaurant on 36th Avenue in Astoria.
Loaeza said he would support new vendor regulations. The first step would be to lift the permit cap, he said.
“If the permit cap was lifted I would be the first in line,” he told the Astoria Post earlier this month. “We would gladly pay for that permit as long as we had the peace of mind.”
Loaeza said he thinks vendors and food trucks should receive a specific location that is theirs to operate. He said this would prevent police officers from making the vendors move.
Ferreras-Copeland said that idea is being heavily considered, but said that one big appeal to vendors is that they are mobile.
“We need to find a balance for those vendors that want to move around,” she said.
She believes that clearer rules will benefit everyone involved.
“This legislation will make big changes in the lives of vendors, small businesses and residents,” she said.
Ferreras-Copeland said there is no timetable for when this legislation will officially be introduced.