New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

New York Daily News Let N.Y.ers choose what their city looks like by Benjamin Kallos

Let N.Y.ers choose what their city looks like

Letter to the Editor:

I write in defense of member deference in the New York City Council, where all members grant one member a veto on rezonings in their district. This empowers voters to elect candidates who share their vision for their neighborhood.

The problem is that zoning is used to print money for real estate developers who have bought politicians. Developers get billions while residents get a lottery for families earning $232,980 to pay $6,057 a month for “affordable housing.” Those numbers are absurd and we must do better!

As a Council Member, I refused real estate money. This freed me to use member deference to lead a rezoning to block billionaires’ row, make empty spaces in buildings for billionaires illegal, open 1,000 affordable apartments and welcome housing and shelter for the homeless. Sadly, Mayor de Blasio blocked my proposals for the Upper East Side to require affordable housing or integrated public schools in new towers. That's why I proposed removing city planning from the mayor.

Some hold up the 2021 Blood Center rezoning where member deference was ignored. That rezoning was not about blood, it was about rezoning a residential block of brownstones to build a 334-foot commercial tower. It involved Mayor de Blasio who owed lobbyists on the project $435,000, a nonprofit that provided blood as an alternative to the Red Cross, and a pandemic that had devastated our city. It promised a new headquarters and new jobs to boost our recovery.

Years later, the Blood Center headquarters moved from Long Island to Westchester. Construction never started, jobs never came, and our city never got the boost it needed. A new rezoning could allow a super-tall commercial tower without them. The City Council did not get what it voted for. This is an example for not only keeping member deference, but electing more candidates who refuse real estate money.

Ben Kallos

Former Council Member for the Upper East Side who voted “No” on rezoning the Blood Center into a Commercial Tower

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