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City Council Legislation to Open Outdoor Dining Must Not Exclude Street Vendors

5 Jun 2020
City Council Legislation to Open Outdoor Dining Must Not Exclude Street Vendors
On Thursday, June 4th, The New York City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing held a hearing on Intro 1957, a bill proposed to create temporary outdoor dining locations for restaurants in public spaces, as well as additional locations for food vendors. Restaurant owners, street vendors, small business advocates, Business Improvement Districts, and Council Members all testified citing their support of the bill proposed by Council Member Antonio Reynoso and Speaker Corey Johnson to open sidewalk dining for struggling restaurants. However, street vendors and supporters raised serious concerns that the proposal does not include language to preserve the existing spaces used by street vendors, risking the elimination of street vendor small business owners who contribute so much to New York City. 
“There is no doubt that small businesses across the City have been struggling in the economic fallout from the pandemic, especially those who have been left out from all government support, including many restaurants and most, if not all, street vendors.We are in favor of the legislation Intro 1957…but we are extremely concerned about how this plan and policy will be implemented. The legislation lacks the clarity of ensuring current vending spots will be protected, and vendors will not be displaced. The City Council approach must be inclusive of all small businesses, and ensure that supporting one group of small businesses won’t hurt any others… the last thing street vendors expect after this crisis is to be displaced for any reason,” said Mohamed Attia, Executive Director of the Street Vendor Project of the Urban Justice Center. 
Council Member Andrew Cohen, Chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing, acknowledged throughout the hearing that equity for New Yorkers means ensuring street vendors, who have been excluded from all relief, are able to continue their businesses and contribute to New York City’s economy. He questioned the Commissioner of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg regarding how the administration would ensure implementation of this policy would not displace vendors and create conflict. Commissioner Trottenberg responded stating the Department of Transportation will not deliberately harm vendors, and Small Business Services Commissioner Jonnel Doris stated he shared the concern. However, there is no language yet included to protect mobile food vendors. Full video of the exchange can be found at 1:12:37 in the recording of yesterday’s hearing.  
There are approximately 20,000 New Yorkers who sell food and merchandise from the streets and sidewalks of NYC. Street vendors are primarily women of color, military veterans, low-wage immigrant workers who come from communities who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and who have reported income losses of 70-90%. As small business owners and workers, street vendors contribute an estimated $293 million to the city’s economy. Yet despite their critical role, street vendors have been excluded from disaster relief at every level of government, including New York City, whether it be due to their immigration status or the informal nature of their work. If vendors are displaced as a result of this program, then any “reopening” or “recovery” will look just as unequal as the effects of the pandemic.  
Sonia Perez, a street vendor from Bushwick, Brooklyn who sells tamales and a range of Mexican dishes, questioned why she would be unable to access the temporary permits being offered to restaurants. She testified through a translator, “I have my mobile food vendors license, which means that I have gone through health and safety training about how to safely prepare food. What I don’t have, however, is a permit to vend, but this is not for lack of trying – I have been to City Hall, I have spoken at Community Board meetings, but with the current lack of permits I cannot work safely vending in the streets. I get chased by police – all for trying to sell tamales in order to care for my family. I am afraid that if this bill Intro 1957 is to pass, without there being an opportunity for vendors who have licenses but not permits to work in public space, other vendors like me will be left out from recovery plans, in the same way we have been left out of all relief.” 
As New York City considers opening streets and sidewalks to restaurants to allow for business to resume safely, The City has the opportunity to reverse course and ensure vendors who make their living serving fresh and affordable food from our city’s streets and sidewalks play a central role in recovery efforts. There are several amendments to the bill that can ensure that vending spots are preserved.  
First, the bill should clearly state no “temporary outdoor dining permit” shall be granted for a location that includes space where a food vendor is currently operating or has operated before the pandemic. The actual permit should also state that food vendors must be accommodated in the public space, to avoid any inequality should a conflict arise.    
Other proposed ideas to ensure there is no loss of vending spaces should be to relegate restaurant dining to the streets as much as possible, so the sidewalks are free for pedestrians and vendors. If sidewalks are used for restaurant dining, then five feet of space, the width of the largest vending cart, should be preserved from the curb, for food vendors. This could be done by allowing restaurants to use the space usually designated for sidewalk cafes, with additional space depending on the sidewalk width.  
The Street Vendor Project supports the proposal to add additional spaces, which are currently restricted, for food vendors. This proposal be instituted on the dozens of streets that were restricted for vendors decades ago at the behest of real estate and corporate interests. Another option would be to repeal the antiquated Department of Transportation rule that prohibits food trucks from operating at metered parking spots and affording them the same rights as all other commercial vehicles. The Council could additionally look at amending the numerous sidewalk placement rules for vendors to make it a little easier for vendors to operate without fear of high fines and other enforcement actions. 
“We must explore all possible avenues to help our small businesses and restaurants survive but we can’t charge forward on recovery without a plan for our street vendors, especially those worried about losing the sites they fought for and established a years long footprint in,” Council Member Margaret Chin stated on social media, after questioning SBS Commissioner Jonnel Doris on how the plan would be inclusive of street vendors.  
In response to the architecture firm Rockwell Group’s renderings for restaurants making use of outdoor spaces to help their businesses, which erased vendors from city streets, architecture firm Fete Nature Architecture released images showing “a vision of an Open Street that incorporates spaces for the public that include both vendors and restaurants. Our two case studies look at how the Open Street can accommodate vendors – small businesspeople that are vital. An equitable city needs to have a welcome place for street vendors who are providing a convenience to the public while also providing a living for their families,” said Julie Torres Moskovitz, founding principal of Fete Nature Architecture, PLLC. 
Sketch of Berry Street, Brooklyn, showing street vendors and outdoor restaurant dining | Fete Nature Architecture
Sketch of Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick, Brooklyn showing open streets with street vendors | Fete Nature Architecture

Street Vendor Community Needs in Response to COVID-19

17 Mar 2020

[Español abajo]

As we navigate together through this global public health crisis, the health and safety of New York City’s street vendors, frontline workers, and the communities they serve, are at the forefront of our minds. In an effort to follow the CDC’s recommendation of social distancing to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the Street Vendor Project is working to find creative ways to support the needs of our members and their families and communities. We are doing this by suspending all physical outreach and transitioning all communication and engagement with our members to happen via phone calls, FaceTime chats, sharing information through our district-based group chats and other social media platforms. Additionally, we are working to connect them to vital city resources such as childcare, food banks, and helping them apply for small business loans, and ensuring they have access to multilingual COVID-19 information.  

In the midst of the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, we must think about the most vulnerable communities in NYC who cannot work remotely and are ineligible to receive unemployment benefits or other government financial support. Street vendors, day laborers, delivery workers and other precariously employed workers– many of whom are immigrants– have no choice but to continue to work. 

Street vendors are generally not eligible for state-sponsored benefits or support like paid sick leave and unemployment insurance, or even small business relief funds. For workers in informal economies, this is a dire situation, leaving many with fear and confusion as to how they will support themselves and their families in the days, weeks and months to come. 90% of our members are low-wage immigrant workers who rely on busy streets in order to survive day to day. Without a safety net to fall back on, they are forced to continue to work, risking their health and well-being in the process. 

In solidarity with small business owners and workers, frontline food service and delivery workers, and other particularly vulnerable workers, SVP is demanding emergency relief for informal economy workers and other precariously employed workers and small business owners alike via the following: 

Immediate Needs of Street Vendors 

  • Waive all late penalties for late sales filings for NYS Department of Taxation and Finance which are due on March 20th   
  • Immediate suspension of New York Police Department, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Parks Department, and Department of Consumer Affairs enforcement of street vendor compliance violations – regardless of whether the vendor has a permit or a license. Waive outstanding tickets issued since January 2020, as vendors won’t be able to work for the foreseeable future.  
  • Ensure street vendors and delivery workers are included in NYC Department of Education childcare plan for frontline workers   
  • Ensure workers who are employed by food cart or truck owners, including undocumented workers, are eligible for unemployment insurance and any forthcoming emergency relief funds 
  • Create granting opportunities via NYC Small Business Services for low-income sole proprietors that street vendors and other small business owners are eligible to receive   
    • Ensure that eligibility is not dependent on commercial rent payments  
    • Allow for a mobile food vending license or permit, general merchandise license, or proof of quarterly sales tax filings to be sufficient proof of sole proprietorship   
    • Allow for proof of income being at or below federal poverty levels as appropriate documentation of low-income status  

Broad demands for the Health and Safety of Frontline Communities 

  • Emergency Universal Basic Income at a minimum for low-income workers to receive direct assistance for the duration of the crisis  
  • Statewide suspension of rent, mortgage, and utility payments for the duration of the public health emergency 
  • Universal healthcare access for all, regardless of immigration status  
  • Moratorium on the Public Charge rule 
  • Cease all Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations across NYC to ensure undocumented immigrants can access vital resources in schools, hospitals, and places of worship. The immediate release of all immigrants from detention to stop the spread of coronavirus and help flatten the curve in New York City and New York State. 

Additionally, we want to share the following resources and actions with our community members: 


Mientras navegamos juntos y juntas esta crisis global de salud pública, el bienestar y seguridad de los vendedores ambulantes, trabajadores de primera línea de defensa, y comunidades a las que estas personas sirven, están en primer plano en nuestras mentes. Con intención de seguir las recomendaciones de distanciamiento social dadas por del Centro de Control de Enfermedades (CDC por sus siglas en inglés) para apoyar a parar la propagación de COVID-19, el Proyecto de Vendedores Ambulantes (Street Vendor Project) está trabajando para encontrar maneras creativas de apoyar las necesidades de nuestros miembros, sus familias y comunidades. Se está realizando esto al suspender todo alcance organizativo físico y transicionando todas nuestras comunicaciones y citas con nuestros miembros a  llamadas telefónicas, chats de FaceTime, al compartir información mediante nuestros chats de grupo en cada distrito y por medio de nuestras plataformas de medios sociales. Adicionalmente, estamos trabajando para conectar a nuestros miembros a recursos vitales en la ciudad como el cuidado de niños y niñas o bancos de comida, ayudándoles a aplicar para préstamos para negocios pequeños, y al asegurarnos de que tienen acceso a información multilingüe sobre el COVID-19.

En medio de esta pandemia sin precedentes, debemos pensar sobre las comunidades más vulnerables en Nueva York quienes no pueden trabajar a distancia y son inelegibles para recibir beneficios de desempleo u otras ayudas económicas por parte del gobierno. Vendedores ambulantes, jornaleros, trabajadores de entrega a domicilio y otros trabajadores en situaciones precarias–muchos quienes son inmigrantes–no tienen otra opción que continuar su trabajo.  

Vendedores ambulantes generalmente no son elegibles para beneficios por parte del estado, o para apoyos como el pago por ausencia laboral por enfermedad y seguro de desempleo, o hasta fondos de alivio económico para negocios pequeños. Para trabajadores en economías informales, esta es una situación calamitosa, dejando a muchos con miedo y confusión sobre cómo podrán cuidarse a sí mismos y sus familias en los días, semanas y meses que vienen. 90% de nuestros miembros son trabajadores migrantes con salario bajo quienes dependen en calles concurridas para poder sobrevivir de día a día. Sin una red de seguridad para su apoyo, están forzados a continuar su trabajo, arriesgando su salud y su bienestar en el proceso. 

En solidaridad con propietarios de pequeñas empresas y sus trabajadores, con trabajadores en servicios alimenticios de primera línea y de envíos a domicilio, y con otros trabajadores particularmente vulnerables, el Proyecto de Vendedores Ambulantes (SVP por sus siglas en inglés) demanda alivio de emergencia tanto para trabajadores de la economía informal como para otros empleados en situaciones precarias y dueños de pequeñas empresas a mediante de:

Necesidades inmediatas para vendedores ambulantes

  • Renunciar a toda penalidad por tardanza a la presentación de ventas para el Departamento de Finanzas y Taxes del estado de Nueva York, las cuales tienen una fecha límite de presentación a marzo 20. 
  • Suspensión inmediata de la ejecución de multas a vendedores ambulantes por violaciones de reglas por parte del Departamento de Policía de Nueva York  , el Departamento de Salud, el Departamento de Parques, y el Departamento de Protección al Consumidor–sea o no que el vendedor ambulante tenga permiso o licencia. Renunciar multas pendientes que se han dado desde enero 2020, ya que vendedores no podrán trabajar en un futuro inmediato. 
  • Asegurarse de que vendedores ambulantes y trabajadores de envíos a domicilio estén incluidos en el plan de cuidado de niños y niñas del Departamento de Educación para trabajadores de primera línea de defensa. 
  • Asegurarse de que trabajadores quienes estén empleados por propietarios de carros y puestos de comida, incluyendo a trabajadores indocumentados, sean elegibles para seguros de desempleo y para cualquier fondo monetario de alivio por emergencias. 
  • Crear oportunidades de becas por mediante de la entidad de Servicios para Pequeñas Empresas en Nueva York para propietarios de bajos recursos y que vendedores ambulantes tal como otros negocios pequeños sean elegibles para recibirlas
    • Asegurarse que la elegibilidad no sea dependiente en pagos de renta comerciales.
    • Permitir que una licencia o permiso para venta ambulante de comida, licencias generales de mercado, o prueba de entrega de taxes trimestral sean suficiente prueba de la propiedad. 
    • Permitir que la prueba de ingresos bajo o a nivel federal de pobreza sea documentación apropiada de estatus de bajos recursos.   

Demandas generales para la salud y seguridad de comunidades en primera línea de defensa

  • Ingreso universal de emergencia básico por lo mínimo para trabajadores de bajos recursos  para recibir asistencia directa durante la duración de esta crisis
  • Suspensión de renta, hipoteca, y pagos por servicios públicos durante la duración de la emergencia de salud pública
  • Acceso universal de cuidado de salud para todos, sin importar el estatus migratorio
  • Moratorio a la regla de cargo público 
  • Cesar toda aplicación de operaciones por parte de ICE a lo largo de la ciudad de Nueva York para asegurar que inmigrantes indocumentados puedan acceder a recursos vitales en escuelas, hospitales, y templos. La liberación inmediata de todo inmigrante en detención para parar la propagación del coronavirus y ayudar a aplanar la curva de avance del virus en la ciudad y el estado de Nueva York. 

Adicionalmente, queremos compartir los siguientes recursos y acciones con miembros de nuestra comunidad:

The future is female

29 Oct 2019

Street vending is hard — and even harder if you are female. That is what we found in our interviews with 50 women vendors, conducted over this past year. We collected their responses to a series of questions, and yesterday published a report, Vulnerable in Itself, laying out the issues faced by our women members. Women are less likely to have permits, for example. And nearly half of women vendors told us they feel unsafe at work. The report included recommendations for both the City and SVP ourselves to better serve female vendors, so please read it. 

You can also check out some of the press it generated here, here, and here (en Espanol).



Breaking myths and working together

20 Sep 2019

The myth that street vendors harm restaurants and other shopkeepers has been used to stall progressive change for years, most notably by Mayor de Blasio. In 2017 we stuck in his own honorable hand a summary of all the academic research that has been done on this issue. What else can we do?

This week we launched an effort to show that the vast majority of restaurant and deli owners are supportive of vendors. Why listen to the real-estate-backed industry lobbyists when we can talk directly to restaurants, many of whom got their start as food trucks or pushcarts? We are, and on Wednesday we did an event in Sunset Park, with local restaurant owners themselves, to kick off this effort. Narrative change is slow, but it bends toward the truth, right? We released this video and we got some nice articles in Patch and on NY1 Noticias on the theme. Stay tuned for more.

We’re not movin’

6 Aug 2019

The key thing about vendors is that they work in the public space – where the rules are decided not by a private landlord, but by our democratically-elected officials. However, some landlords think that THEY get to determine what happens on our public streets and sidewalks. Often this means evicting street vendors with illegal sidewalk furniture.  Imagine showing up for working and finding these in your spot? No thank you!

Vendors are not taking it any more, and as far as SVP has a say in the matter, will not be bullied by big real estate. Recently, on Broadway and 31st Street in Manhattan, a Business Improvement District installed a row of sidewalk obstructions to displace vendors who had been working there, in some cases, more than 35 years!  We did a press conference yesterday to draw public attention to this issue, and to demand these planters be moved. Read about it in the Wall Street Journal, AM New York, and Curbed.

Honor thy mother

13 May 2019

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, but many vendors cannot celebrate with their children — they have to work! Mother’s Day is the biggest day of the year for flower sales, so many vendors branch into that field on this special day. But hopefully over the next week, vendors who are mothers (like Angelica, left) will get to relax a bit with their families. Like all mothers, they deserve it.

Undeniably, the face of vending in NYC is becoming more female. In some neighborhoods, like Corona, the vast majority of street vendors are women, as the survey we did for the city’s CDNA found. Another thing we noticed? That many children help their mothers at the cart, like Luz Maria,  the vendor profiled in this excellent piece last month. Hang out with Mom while learning business skills? Sounds like a perfect Mother’s Day to us!

We keep advancing toward justice

15 Apr 2019

Some people who follow our work — and surely all our members — are tired that we are still fighting for food vending permits, after launching the campaign in May 2014 and almost winning in December 2017. But here we are!

We’ll keep fighting until we get some justice. A bill (very similar to the last one) to double the number of vending permits (while also streamlining enforcement and creating a Vendor Advisory Board) was introduced in October 2018, and it had a City Hall hearing last week. Several hundred vendors came out to plea for change, as did a huge coalition of organizations in support. Yes, the real estate folks were there again. But as time goes on, it seems like the are fighting a losing fight.  Pa’lante!

Making the grade

28 Jan 2019

After several years of talking about it, the NYC Department of Health is finally giving vendors letter grades, just as they do with restaurants.

We support this change and always have. Vendors are already inspected by the DOH — they should receive recognition when they have a clean record, just as they receive tickets and fines when they fail.  To be clear, we definitely DO NOT support the GPS tracking system the DOH wrongly claims it need to give the letter grades. We are considering a legal challenge to this unsafe and overly intrusive practice.

But as for the grades themselves, the time has come, and vendors are excited. We hope this new practice will finally shut up those ignorant people who claim that vendors are not required to comply with the Health Code. Even more important, if will bring vendors greater respect. Indeed, twenty of the first 24 vendors to be inspected so far have received an A. No surprise to us!

Goings and comings

23 Dec 2018

Last week, after a short 17 years, SVP founder Sean Basinski announced he would be stepping down and turning over the reigns to his co-director, former vendor and SVP Leadership Board member Mohamed Attia. In his goodbye email, Sean reflected on how vendors (who now have a Netflix series) have gone mainstream – something that would have been unthinkable in 2001. But he also acknowledged all the work that lies ahead and his confidence in Mohamed and the entire SVP community to carry forth to get it done.

Thanks, Sean, for all your vision and hard work! And Mohamed — congratulations!

A Day for Vendors

17 Nov 2018

There are lots of silly holidays these days, from National Guacamole Day all the way to National Clean-Out-Your-Fridge Day. Most of them are shameless plugs sold by public relations flacks on behalf of big companies. But International Street Vendors Day, celebrated around the world each November 14th, is something different. It is not trying to sell you anything. Instead, the point is simply to recognize the contributions that vendors make and raise awareness on the significant challenges they face, from India to Spain to Kenya. And yes, here in New York.

We always try to celebrate this special, if slightly made-up, day. A few years ago we did clean-up after Hurricane Sandy, last year we celebrated with vendors at our office, and this year we had a dumpling-making event with some close friends and supporters. We also reached out to a bunch of StreetNet affiliates around the world and compiled this very short video greeting. Enjoy!