New York's graffiti-cleaning program resumes after year-plus hiatus

Field manager Malvin Sanabia signed on with Graffiti Free NYC in April, spending nine hours a day painting over, power-washing, and scraping tags in all five boroughs, which proliferated during the pandemic when the city suspended the program indefinitely.

"The before and after: It's very refreshing," Sanabia said. "It's almost like drinking water after you run a sprint or a marathon."

NYC Economic Development Corporation Assistant Vice President Nathan Moran has overseen Graffiti Free NYC for the last two years.

"There's been a spike in quality-of-life concerns around the city," he said.

After 14 months spent watching tags accumulate, Moran now scrambles to hire back all the crew members needed to staff his dozen or so trucks, after resuming operations in April. Including Sanabia's crew gray-washing the exteriors of New Roma Pizza on Delancey Street, Thursday, Moran reported just five Graffiti Free NYC trucks out on the streets.

"A tough job would be more on the industry size [surfaces]," Sanabia said. "Those big walls, those big canvases."

At full-strength, Graffiti Free NYC can clean 100 addresses a week. The city currently has more than 4,000 addresses on its list of reportedly vandalized surfaces.

"It's a small thing," Moran said. "We come to a location and clean graffiti, but it really helps to make a difference."

"It is a sign of neglect," SoHo Wines and Spirits co-owner Stephen Masullo said of graffiti on June 3, "a sign of things out of hand. Quality of life is very important."

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Two weeks ago, FOX 5 NY brought you a story about Masullo and George Berges Gallery manager Jack Applegate watching their neighborhood accumulate spray paint and destruction over the last year while they waited for the city to clean it up.

"We were lucky that we had metal that comes down," Applegate said. "I think that's the only thing that saved us. "

Graffiti Free NYC visited SoHo last week.

For as long as the weather remains above 40 degrees, these teams plan to continue painting, scraping and blasting every surface reported through a 311 call or a Graffiti Free application, joining the 10,000 New York City Cleanup Corps members the mayor promises to hire to scrub away all of the last year of pandemic grime from this city's surfaces.

"Graffiti Free is back," Sanabia said. "We're running and we're going to beautify New York."