Turns out the friendly halal guys serving $5 lunches on the streets of New York are all wrapped up in a multi-million-dollar underground economy.
On just about every corner, food trucks dishing up questionable rotisserie meat with rice are doing so with permits they don’t legally own. This black market for permits has a death grip on the city’s street vendor industry.
No one really seems to care, but they should.
As reported in Crain’s:
That black market is worth an estimated $15 million to $20 million a year, costing the city millions of dollars in potential fees while making it harder for immigrant entrepreneurs to build equity and take the first step up the economic ladder.
The problems come with registering the food carts themselves … for which the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene charges $200, and which is usually valid for two years. But many permit holders, having put in their time slinging souvlakis and moved on to more lucrative businesses, such as driving a cab, keep renewing their permits and renting them out, often with the cart attached, on a lucrative black market.
In this manner, an estimated 70% to 80% of permits are illegally in use by someone other than the permit holder.
These operating permits didn’t just materialize out of thin air. They were created by the city with the intent that owners would return them once they got sick of standing around for 12 hours perpetually smelling like bacon fat.
Now, the city is screwing itself out of millions of dollars, and it’s being stolen from them in broad daylight.
They gave birth to a system that screams “corruption,” then decided it was too bothersome to monitor.
It’s even more important to remember that the city isn’t the only one losing out on this deal. Like Crain’s noted, immigrant entrepreneurs just looking for a way to get by are getting torched. They’ve effectively become indentured servants to an exploitative process because law enforcement hasn’t taken a stand.
Those cheap gyros are starting to sound a lot less satisfying.
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Cover image: Getty