Testimony from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC

)
Submitted to the New York City Council
October 26, 2016
UUSC is a human rights organization with a 76-year history of utilizing grassroots collaboration
in order to advance human rights and social justice in the United States and abroad. In our work to
advance economic justice in the United States, UUSC has developed a partnership with Street Vendor
Project (SVP) that is designed to support their work to advance the rights of street vendors in New York
City, particularly through their campaign to lift the cap on vending permits.
UUSC would like to thank the New York City Council (hereafter “the Council”) for its attention
to the critical issue of the cap on vending permits, and for the progress represented in the draft package
of bills under consideration at today’s hearing. Street vendors are integral to the culture and local
economy of New York City. But even more than this, they are the embodiment of entrepreneurial spirit.
Despite this, the economic contributions of street vendors often go unnoticed. In spite of the economic
activity spurred through vending and the employment opportunities that are created when vendors are
able to employ others, much of the conversation around vending characterizes vendors as a nuisance,
through quality of life crackdowns. In addition, vendors are often characterized as unfair competition for
other area businesses.
In reality, many vendors are small business owners; they include immigrants and people of color;
and they are determined to contribute to their communities and to the local economy. Currently, the cap
on vending permits in New York City is too low, and the fines levied against street vendors are too high.
Both conditions constitute a critical economic justice issue, and efforts by the Council to raise the
number of permits available and to improve regulations and enforcement practices are welcome.
The cap on vending permits has not dampened the desire of street vendors to earn their living
through vending. Instead, it has created an extensive black market for vending permits, which most
negatively affects lower income vendors who are simply trying to earn a living and to make ends meet.
Given that only 3,000 permits are available, and that there are more than 20,000 street vendors in New
York City, many vendors are left with two options: 1) buy a permit on the black market for up to
$25,000; or, 2) vend illegally, risking enforcement activity and costly fines . Both of these alternatives
unduly punish individuals who make key contributions to their community and to the local economy.
By lifting the cap, as the Council has proposed in the draft package of bills being considered at
today’s hearing, the Council would take a significant and historic step toward remedying this situation.
Lifting the cap will benefit street vendors by making their employment more secure, and by recognizing
the important contributions they make. Lifting the cap on vending permits will also benefit the families
of vendors and the communities in which the vendors operate. Despite the objections that street vendors

UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST SERVICE COMMITTEE
689 Massachusetts Avenue ● Cambridge, MA 02139-3302 ● 617-868-6600 ● fax: 617-868-7102 www.uusc.org

represent unfair competition for local businesses, or that they crowd sidewalks, they are entrepreneurs,
employers, and neighbors; and they play a critical role in the communities where they work.
It is time that the contributions of street vendors are recognized by supporting their right to run
their businesses legally, without the current arbitrarily low cap on permits that leaves vendors vulnerable
to interference and harassment. The proposed set of bills is also a move in the right direction because it
helps to ensure economic opportunity for individuals who simply want to make a living for themselves
and their families. UUSC applauds the Council’s efforts to advance economic justice for the street
vendors of New York City, and urges the Council to pass this legislation, thereby ensuring that the cap
on permits is lifted, and the integral role of street vendors is both recognized and respected.

UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST SERVICE COMMITTEE
689 Massachusetts Avenue ● Cambridge, MA 02139-3302 ● 617-868-6600 ● fax: 617-868-7102 www.uusc.org