When Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill late last year to stop Airbnb hosts from turning their apartments into de facto hotels, bigger fines were supposed to deter a practice elected officials argued took much-needed apartments off the rental market.
But more than six months after city inspectors’ first round of enforcement, the de Blasio administration has collected only a fraction of the issued fines, which added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a Crain’s analysis. In large part, the trouble is rooted in the city’s long-flawed collection system—where cases and appeals can take months to process and landlords have little reason to pay up—which could ultimately defang efforts to curb illegal home sharing.
All of this is playing out on the Upper East Side, where social-service groups and community-based nonprofits, churches and synagogues, block associations and community boards, and civic, faith and elected leaders — not to mention a perplexed citizenry — are grappling with the homeless issue. And mulling a basic question: To give or not to give?
Those ruminations, like so much else today, burst into public view with a tweet.
The scene was the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, at 337 East 74th Street, on the evening of October 16th, where the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association was holding a public meeting, and City Council Member Ben Kallos was discussing the homeless problem.
That night, says Tina Larsson, the group’s secretary-treasurer, she tweeted a message that emerged from his presentation, and shortly after, Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side and Midtown East, retweeted it.
“Don’t give money to the homeless in our neighborhood,” she wrote. “Donate to the faith-based institutions that help them instead.”
The sharp surge in the homeless presence locally has been disturbing to residents, Larsson says. She notes a small square at 75th Street on the west side of First Avenue near the Saratoga apartment building as one problem spot.
And she cited a local nuisance known as the “Spitting Lady of 77th Street,” a longtime fixture on Third Avenue who cursed, screamed and spat upon people, often children. The woman became the focus of a Facebook page, and an online petition to de Blasio demanding her removal that garnered 1,500 signatures. She hasn’t been spotted since May.
Handouts to people like that encourage their behavior, increase the volume of solicitations and fuel dependency, the argument goes. “If you keep giving them money, they’ll keep staying here,” Larsson said.
Kallos say his constituents are deeply compassionate. “And when they see someone on the street, many people give from the bottom of their hearts,” he says. “The problem is for everyone else in the neighborhood who don’t want to see panhandlers, those who give are literally paying them to be there.”
He regularly addresses groups of as many as 100 residents in their buildings, asking for a show of hands of those who give cash to street beggars. Typically, some 10 percent of attendees raise their hands, and Kallos will implore, “Please stop doing that. You are paying them to stay there.”
Offering money can also discourage the needy from accepting tax-supported city services that could get them off the streets, he argues.
The alternative? “If you want to help someone on the street, call 311,” Kallos urges, saying a call can open the door to city shelter, three square meals a day, substance abuse programs, job training, even money to help pay the rent.
Parents interested in participating in local government might soon receive free child care provided by the city under proposed legislation by Council Member Ben Kallos.
Raised by a single mother, Kallos hopes the option of child care will eliminate barriers to participation by parents, and in turn increase women’s involvement in government. Women make up less than 25 percent of the New York City Council.
“I think people feel like democracy is broken,” said Kallos, who offers free child care at his annual events. “If we want to build an inclusive democracy here in New York City, it means offering free child care when we want to hear from any New Yorker who has children.”
The idea was brought to Kallos by several parents in the district, including Community Board 8 member Sarah Chu, a new mother.
“Before I became a parent, I often wondered why more parents didn’t attend our meetings,” said Chu. “Parents have a clear and present interest in the democratic process on behalf of their children. Adopting this legislation is important because it tells parents that their engagement in civic life is necessary and valued.”
Upper East Side Councilman Ben Kallos said he protested the price surge to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which inked the deal, but was told it can’t be renegotiated.
“There is something wrong with the way we buy things as a city,” Kallos griped. “We never should have to pay more through a contract than if we bought it on the open market.”
Kallos said he had 284 of the domed, green trash cans installed on neighborhood sidewalks since taking office in 2014. At the time, they cost $545 a pop under a different contract.
The cans were such a hit that Kallos said he planned to order more — until he learned the new cost, $969.
Fuleihan insisted that the city has baselined 65,000 slots for the program, showing that the administration is indeed committed to SYEP. He also noted that a joint youth jobs task force created by the Council and the administration to study the issue only recently released its recommendations and that those would be incorporated before the adopted budget. “I had no doubt that this was going to be another priority that we’re going to be working together on adoption now that we have the task force recommendations,” Fuleihan said.
The hearing touched on a number of other budget items, small and large, and many related to individual Council members’ purviews as chairs of Council committees. For instance, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, chair of the cultural affairs committee, brought up funding for the arts; transportation committee chair Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez questioned the administration’s refusal to back discounted Metrocards for low-income New Yorkers; and Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of governmental operations, pushed for budgeting to be linked with agency performance. In his typical refrain, Fuleihan repeatedly said OMB would work with the Council members on their individual concerns.
One of the larger issues addressed at the budget hearing was the city’s capital plan -- not the level of funding, but rather the process of allocation. Council members said the city has often allocated excessive funds for projects that are often delayed and that no plans exists to account for cost overruns.
Two weeks after he announced the initiative, de Blasio and others who had spurred the effort -- especially Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Member Ben Kallos, Comptroller Scott Stringer, liberal activist Bill Samuels, and members of AARP-NY -- held a celebratory rally at City Hall. They said they were pushing the federal Department of Labor to issue rules paving the way for their plan and that legislation would soon be introduced at the city level.
Several months later, in the waning days of the Obama administration, the Department of Labor did issue such a ruling, but just a few months after that, the new Congress passed a resolution to negate the permission the DOL had extended to large cities like New York. President Trump then signed the bill on April 13. According to multiple sources, and further illuminated by International Business Times reporting, the financial services industry has been opposed to allowing city and state-backed private-sector programs, which led to federal action.
In fact, rolling back city permission appears to have been a high priority for the Trump administration. In photos posted to Twitter by a visitor to his office (left), top Trump advisor Steven Bannon is shown to have listed the resolution number one under “Bills,” as part of several lists of priorities and pledges.
“This is a deeply disappointing move by President Trump and Congressional Republicans,” said Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “As the mayor has repeatedly pointed out, fewer than half of all working New Yorkers have access to a plan that can help them save for their retirement years. This legislation does little more than block them from securing their futures.”
While its a step in the right direction, annoyed New Yorkers are saying its not enough and call for legislation that will penalize property owners who keep the sidewalk sheds up for extended lengths of time to avoid making necessary repairs. “We already know how big a problem it is, and unless the city is willing to take steps to get the scaffolding down, it doesn’t matter,” City Councilman Ben Kallos told the Times. He has proposed a bill that would require building owners to make facade repairs within three to six months so that scaffolds aren’t up for longer than that.
As a result of the new map, the DOB was able to order 150 scaffolds to be dismantled since work had been finished. Though the database consolidates data, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will help scaffolds come down any quicker. “We’re erring on the side of safety to keep them in place so no one gets hurt,” said DOB Commissioner Rick Candler.
While Mr. Rubin said the city’s new scaffolding database would be useful, he added that it did not go far enough to address the problem. “As long as building owners find it cheaper and easier to keep up a sidewalk shed, rather than remedy the dangerous building conditions that make sheds required, the many problems that are caused by these ubiquitous sidewalk sheds will never be solved,” he said.
City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, said he was “underwhelmed” by the building department’s efforts, adding that it will do little to address scaffolding that has overstayed its welcome. “We already know how big a problem it is, and unless the city is willing to take steps to get the scaffolding down, it doesn’t matter,” he said.
Mr. Kallos has proposed legislation that would give a building owner three months to repair a facade, with the possibility of a three-month extension, so that scaffolding can be removed within six months of going up, or sooner when no work is being done. The legislation has drawn support from many residents and business groups, including the New York State Restaurant Association and the New York City Hospitality Alliance.
“We’ll be able to see who’s getting hurt, where and why so that we as a city can make construction safer. We must count every life,” said Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), the bill’s sponsor.
Pensions for All to Help New Yorkers Save for Retirement Introduced by Public Advocate James and Council Member Kallos
President Trump Called Upon to Veto Congressional Resolution That Would
Block States from Providing Retirement Accounts to Residents
New York City – Following the passage of House Joint Resolutions 66 and 67 by Rep. Walberg (R-MI) and Rep. Rooney (R-FL) on March 30, 2017, to roll back regulations permitting States and Municipalities to offer retirement savings plans, Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Member Ben Kallos are introducing legislation (Intro:1574 and Intro:1580), Saving Access New York, that would allow every private sector worker in New York City to save pre-tax for retirement even if their employer did not offer a 401K. On April 13, President Trump signed H.J. Resolution 67 pertaining to municipalities into law. Public Advocate James and Council Member Kallos are now calling on President Trump to veto the remaining Congressional legislation and empower Americans throughout this nation to take personal responsibility to save for their retirements.
New York, NY – Tenants and advocates with the Stand for Tenant Safety (STS) Coalition will testify at a hearing today beginning at 10 AM for five of the twelve bills in the STS legislative package which aims to reform the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB). The STS Coalition is a citywide alliance of grassroots tenant organizations and legal service groups collaborating with the Progressive Caucus and the eleven City Council prime sponsors to push for greater protection for tenants, especially in regards to the use of construction as harassment by landlords.
The five bills that will be heard at the Committee on Housing and Buildings hearing encompass:
· Construction Task Force (Intro 0926): This bill would create a task force on construction work in occupied multiple dwellings.
· Building Code Violations (Intro 0931): This bill would provide that building code violations adjudicated before Environmental Control Board would constitute tax liens on the property.
· Tenant Protection Plans (Intro 0936): This bill amends information required in tenant protection plans (TPP) and prescribes measures to ensure compliance with the TPP.
· Permit Oversight (Intro 0938): This bill requires increased oversight of construction contractors who have engaged in work without a required permit.
· Construction Bill of Rights (Intro 0960): This bill creates a safe construction bill of rights.
These bills together give tenants better protection from dangerous construction and help DOB to enforce already existing laws. Without these bills, unscrupulous landlords can use loopholes in the city’s enforcement to create hazardous construction conditions to push tenants out of their homes.
"Construction as harassment continues to be a huge problem in our communities. We are saying that enough is enough and calling on the administration to implement reforms to the Department of Buildings that will help to end this practice," said Council Member Antonio Reynoso, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus.
"The Stand for Tenant Safety legislative package sets out to correct the behavior of the worst landlords, who will face the threat of foreclosure if they fail to fix long-ignored repairs," said Council Member Ben Kallos, Vice Chair for Policy of the Progressive Caucus. "For too long some landlords and building owners have neither fixed reoccurring problems on their properties nor paid the fines that go along with those violations, putting tenants in unsafe conditions sometimes for years on end."
"Tenant harassment, which often comes in the form of illegal or unscrupulous construction work, robs New Yorkers of their homes and exacerbates the city’s affordable housing crisis. This month, the City Council is reviewing several critical bills – collectively called Stand for Tenant Safety – designed to ensure that the Department of Buildings will prevent abusive construction work and serve New York City tenants, not just owners and contractors. The Stand for Tenant Safety bill package will ultimately make it easier to hold abusive landlords accountable and help tenants protect their homes,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Vice-Chair for Budget Advocacy of the Progressive Caucus.
“As the lead sponsors of another part of this vital DOB reform package, we are pleased that these five bills are moving forward,” said Council Members Margaret S. Chin and Carlos Menchaca, members of the Progressive Caucus, who jointly introduced Intro 918, a bill to fix a flawed inspection system favoring landlords at the expense of tenants. “Unfortunately, for far too many New Yorkers, the problem of tenant harassment and displacement by landlords is only getting worse. We are proud to join a growing number of Council colleagues, advocates and tenants to demand action to protect the quality of life of residents and to keep families in their homes.”
New York, NY - Fidel F. Del Valle, Commissioner and Chief Administrative Law Judge of the City’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) and Council Member Ben Kallos kicked off OATH’s CourtESy (Court’s Education for Seniors) Program today at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, on the Upper East Side. Through the new CourtESy program, OATH aims to bring information about the hearing process directly to our City’s senior citizens.
The forum explained what to do when a resident or property owner receives a summons and highlighted OATH’s Remote Hearing Methods, which give residents who received summonses the ability to fight the tickets at their convenience and without having to travel to attend the OATH hearing in person. “As the City’s central independent administrative law court, OATH’s top priority is to make it as easy as possible for those who have been issued summonses from City enforcement agencies to have their day in court,” said OATH Commissioner and Chief Administrative Law Judge, Fidel F. Del Valle. “OATH recognizes that there are many reason why it may be difficult to attend a hearing in person so we have worked diligently to make it possible for recipients of the most commonly issued summonses to fight those summonses remotely by using OATH’s Hearings Online, Hearings by Mail, Hearings by Phone or Video (webcam) Hearings. Through our CourtESy program, OATH is working to make sure that the City’s senior residents know about these convenient hearing methods and how to utilize them effectively.”
NEW YORK, March 30, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Following last week's construction accident that left a hoist dangerously dangling hundreds of feet in the air above thousands of passersby, today construction workers, elected officials, and community activists gathered at 200 E59th Street to call attention to this unsafe Gilbane job site and their subcontractor, Tradeoff, firing of a worker who requested a safety harness on the job.
Without stringent safety and training standards for construction workers in New York City, accidents of this kind and retaliatory firings will continue to happen and worker's lives will remain at risk. Activists today are urging the New York City Council to pass lifesaving legislation, Intro 1447, that would set safety and training standards for all construction workers in New York City.
National Women’s History Museum in Washington, D.C. Called for by
New York City Council Resolution
Resolution in Support of American Museum of Women’s History Congressional Commission recommendation for a new Smithsonian Museum for American Women’s History on the National Mall
New York, NY – A National Women’s History Museum is being called for by a New York City Council Resolution introduced as we commemorate Women’s History month. The resolution introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, along with Council Members Karen Koslowitz, Jimmy Van Bramer, Laurie Cumbo and Elizabeth Crowley calls on the Federal Government to create a National Women’s History Museum in Washington D.C.
In July 2014, Council Member Kallos and Cumbo introduced Resolution 354, which was adopted on September 10, 2014, calling on the United States Senate to pass and the President to sign H.R. 3979 of 2014 sponsored by Congress Members Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), which was signed by President Obama on December 19, 2014, becoming Public Law 113-291 and established the American Museum of Women’s History Congressional Commission. On November 16, 2016, the Commission presented a report to the President and Congress calling for the creation by the Smithsonian of an American Museum of Women’s History on the national mall.
NEW YORK -- Today, Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Member Ben Kallos released the following joint statement in response to the House of Representatives voting yes on resolutions H.J. Res 66 and H.J Res 67 to block state- and municipal-based retirement savings plans.
“Forcing America’s elders to live out their golden years in poverty does not make America great again. States and municipalities pushed to create retirement systems precisely because the Federal government has failed our seniors. Doubling down on this failure and preventing cities like New York from helping employees save for their future is despicable, even by this Congress’ abysmal standards.
“After research and policy analysis, consultation with experts, and dialogue with retirees and future retirees, we laid out a common sense plan that helps New Yorkers save without burdening taxpayers. Congress should either help our efforts to advance retirement security or get out of the way so local governments can help seniors live with dignity.”
PA James, CM Kallos Condemn House Move to Block Municipal-Based Retirement Savings
Resolutions would Repeal DOL Rules; Leave Millions without Retirement Savings Plans
NEW YORK -- Today, Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Member Ben Kallos released the following joint statement in response to House resolutions H.J. Res 66 and H.J Res 67 to block state- and municipal-based retirement savings plans.
“Our government was created to protect and advance hardworking Americans, not champion policies that hinder our ability to succeed. The new resolutions introduced in the House to prevent cities and states from creating retirement savings plans for individuals are ill-conceived and seem to favor the financial services industry over everyday Americans. Millions of Americans do not have access to these critical tools for their future and, in New York City, more than half of our workers are projected to be in or near poverty when they retire, as a result. By blocking municipalities from creating this safety net, our federal government is hurting working Americans and working New Yorkers. Congress should be supporting these efforts, not tearing them down.”
Public Advocate James and Council Member Ben Kallos have been leaders in creating a New York City-wide retirement savings plan. In February 2015, they co-sponsored legislation to study the creation of a retirement security plan for New York City private sector workers. In June 2015, Public Advocate James released a report documenting the precarious state of retirement savings for New Yorkers. In February 2016, Public Advocate James and Council Member Kallos joined Mayor Bill de Blasio to announce a plan for New York to become the first city in the country to create a retirement savings program for private sector employees.
"New York City is in the midst of a homelessness crisis that is severely impacting our most vulnerable residents, with currently 23,365 children are living in our city's shelter system," Kallos said. "We should be doing everything we can to prevent more families from ending up in already crowded shelters."
Hevesi's plan previously has been backed by 111 state Assembly members from both parties, a group of eight breakaway Senate Democrats who help make up a leadership coalition with the Republicans, and a range of other public officials.
Hevesi has said his plan would cost the state and feds $450 million, but it would ultimately save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars by relying less on costly shelters. It would also be a big savings for the city, he has said.
One of the more contentious bills would require construction workers involved in projects of a certain size that receive $1 million or more in any kind of government assistance to receive state-approved training. Contractors would be required to participate in apprenticeship programs approved by the New York State Department of Labor if working on projects that are 100,000 square feet or more or have 50 or more residential units. A similar bill was introduced in 2013, but was revived by Council member Ben Kallos. Kallos noted on Wednesday that since 2012, 72 percent of construction-related accidents occurred on sites where contractors didn’t participate in apprenticeship programs.
“No one should die from a construction accident that could have been prevented with proper education, apprenticeship, and protections for a worker’s right to say no to a dangerous situation,” he said in a statement.
Brian Sampson, president of the New York chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, a nonunion organization, said the bill wrongly equates the apprenticeship programs with safety. He argued that the law would force workers to either join a union — since unions already participate in the programs — or apply for a program independently, which can take six to 18 months. He said this is likely to put hundreds of workers out of jobs.
New York, NY – Government invests billions every year in subsidies for private construction in New York City without training or transparency for the projects. The reintroduction of the Safe Jobs Act (Intro.1432) would require transparency around Federal, State or City government assistance received by developers and contractors whose construction workers would be required to receive training and graduate from State Department of Labor approved programs.
“No one should die from a construction accident that could have been prevented with proper education, apprenticeship, and protections for a worker's right to say no to a dangerous situation,” said Council Member Ben Kallos a union-side labor lawyer. “Any project that receives taxpayer dollars must pay a living wage, invest in workers with training and apprenticeship, and provide protection for worker's rights.”
Construction-related fatalities remain a serious problem in New York City almost doubling in Fiscal Year 2015 to 10 from an average of 5.5 the previous four years. Injuries have also increased by more than 50% to 324 injured workers in 2015 according to the Department of Buildings. Since 2012, 72% of the injuries at construction sites occurred at locations where employers did not participate in state-approved training or apprenticeship programs that this bill would require.
A bill introduced last month by City Council member Ben Kallos would try to end this ridiculous time warp. It would require building owners to finish repair work in six months, so that sheds can be removed. If work on a building ever stopped for seven or more consecutive days, landlords would have to take the sheds down or risk being fined.
Per the de Blasio administration, “only 43 percent of working New Yorkers have access to a plan that can help them save for retirement,” but they are often subject to large fees, and “even those who have started to save do not have much: 40 percent of New Yorkers between the ages of 50 and 64 have less than $10,000 saved for retirement.”
The city-focused ruling from the Department of Labor, which applies only to municipalities of a certain size, comes after DOL paved the way for state-run programs earlier this year. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo already has a commission studying the issue. A state program could supercede a city one, though it would also depend on the details of the programs if the city were to launch one before the state. It is too early to tell which level of government will act first. In the city, Public Advocate James and City Council Member Ben Kallos are expected to lead on introducing legislation at the City Council, and the bill would likely go through Kallos' governmental operations committee.
Three City Council members — Jumaane Williams, Ben Kallos and Carlos Mechaca — released a statement offering their condolences to the worker's families and pledging to make sure developers are held accountable when a job site is unsafe.
The joint statement reads:
"We're saddened to offer our prayers of peace and comfort to the family and friends of yet another young man who lost his life on a New York City construction site. If it is even possible to make such news worse, getting it during the holiday season must be unimaginable. My thoughts are with them.
Representatives from the FDNY, along with firefighters from Rescue 1 and Engines 53, 91, 58, 76, 44 will be on hand to receive a Proclamation from Council Member Ben Kallos at City Hall.
81-year-old Jim Duffy was trapped on the fifth floor of an apartment building on East 93rd Street that quickly became engulfed by fire.