A New York City councilman is calling for a hearing to look at nonprofit city contractors after officials opened an investigation into the allegedly undisclosed business ties that a top homeless shelter provider has with a security firm.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the city’s Department of Investigation had opened a probe into the relationship between Acacia Network Housing Inc., a nonprofit homeless services provider, and SERA Security Services LLC. SERA was founded by the Acacia’s CEO, Raul Russi.
Since 2010, Acacia has received more than $1 billion in contracts from the city’s Department of Homeless Services to operate shelters. The nonprofit paid more than $12 million to SERA in 2017 for the firm to provide security services at some of Acacia’s shelters, according to the nonprofit’s most recent federal tax filing.
The recently-passed New York City budget greenlights billions of dollars to some of the most vital programs across the five boroughs. These dollars will help to fund homeless shelters, emergency food pantries, senior services, mental health services, and early childcare for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.
The City of New York contracts with over 1,000 community-based organizations (CBOs) to provide these essential human services at a cost of $6 billion annually. But thanks to the City’s broken procurement system, CBOs are forced to wait a very, very long time to see their money. In fact, according to a recent Comptroller’s report, human service providers wait an average of 221 days before being reimbursed for services and labor they have already provided.
72. Ben Kallos
New York City Councilman
This Upper East Side reformer has carved out a niche as a fierce advocate for increased government transparency and bolstering the city’s campaign finance system. This year, Ben Kallos has been grabbing headlines for his push to implement larger matching funds for political candidates, a measure that was approved on the 2018 ballot. The second-term councilman is also a champion of education, affordable housing and public health – and he invites constituents to engage him in conversation.
City Council Member Ben Kallos (D-Yorkville, Lenox Hill) got a little emotional when he stood up to testify at a recent hearing on zoning loopholes. By his account, the jogs he takes with his infant daughter at Central Park are becoming less and less enjoyable, as the surrounding architecture casts a larger and larger shadow over the park.
“Objects to the south cast a shadow, at least in this hemisphere, to the north,” said Kallos. “I go running with my daughter; she’s in a jogging stroller. And when I take her jogging in the afternoon, when I finally get to do it, it’s dark in the southern part of the park, particularly in the winter months when it gets cold. And she gets cold, and so we have to stay away from the southern end of the park, because it’s starting to be very, very dark and very, very cold.”
Councilmember Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side and who has been a champion of strengthening restriction on voids, called for the city to limit mechanical spaces to no more than 40 feet in these areas, broaden the scope of its review, and to narrow possible exemptions for mixed-use buildings. The issue is especially crucial because excessive voids fill buildings with empty space rather than housing, said Kallos.
“I believe climate change is real,” said Kallos, “and in June we passed a climate emergency resolution. We are the largest city in the world to do so. We’re gonna continue fighting every day to fight climate change so that the organization doesn’t have more waterfront in our city.”
Developers were using excessive mechanical spaces to increase the height of their buildings. On May 29, 2019, the City Council voted to adopt the Residential Tower Mechanical Voids Text Amendment with modifications. The Department of City Planning proposed the amendment in response to developers incorporating excessively tall mechanical floors – “mechanical voids” – in residential towers to increase their allowable height, as mechanical floors did not count toward the zoning floor area in the Zoning Resolution. This would result in towers with several floors of mostly empty space that would allow developers to build higher, increasing the values of the apartments on higher floors. In late 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio asked the Department of City Planning (DCP) to investigate the mechanical voids problem and find a solution.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives and Citywide M/WBE Director J. Phillip Thompson announced today that the City reached its goal of 9,000 City-certified Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs) by the end of June 2019.
NYC Health + Hospitals has again partnered with Harvest Home Farmers Market and GrowNYC, two local nonprofit organizations, to host farmer’s markets and fresh food box programs at patient care locations throughout the city and make fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible for patients, staff and the community.
What goes up must come down. But when that happens is up in the air when it comes to sidewalk sheds, the ugly steel-and-wood structures that swallow up hundreds of miles of sidewalk space across the city.
Capstone Turbine CEO Darren Jamison says even ‘moderate’ incentives for using existing green off-the-shelf technologies can have a big impact on local climate
Kallos also slammed President Trump for denying climate change, telling Cheddar that New York City’s emergency declaration is a “direct response to a failure in leadership in our president and in the federal government.”
“We are hoping that if every jurisdiction around the country and around the planet says ‘nope, climate change is real,’ that will change the narrative and folks will finally have to come to terms with reality,” Kallos added. “When things are going wrong up top, we try to mobilize from the bottom.”
NEW YORK CITY HALL — New York City became the nation's largest city to declare a climate emergency on Wednesday, joining an international movement to address climate change.
The City Council overwhelmingly voted Wednesday afternoon to approve a resolution pushed by activists, adding bulk to a growing list of legislation aimed at cutting emissions in an economy that ranks among the top 20 in the world.
On June 24, Councilmembers Ben Kallos and Costa Constantinides called on the city to declare a climate emergency as a crowd of activists waved signs and cheered on the steps of City Hall under the blistering sun.
The likely future of devastation caused by climate change is one of several reasons activist Becca Trabin said New York City needs to declare a climate emergency.
“You look out at this beautiful cityscape. You don’t just see these tall buildings that are standing here today, you see what this space will look like if we continue on our current trajectory,” Trabin said. “I see devastation all around, I see death. And I see that there is still time to avert that trajectory.”
Trabin was surrounded by about 90 activists in front of City Hall on Monday – including City Council Members Ben Kallos, Costa Constantinides, and Rafael Espinal – who rallied ahead of a hearing of the Council’s Committee of Environmental Protection that included discussion of a resolution to declare a climate emergency in New York City.
UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Students at a public school that serves the Upper East Side and East Harlem celebrated the opening of a brand-new playground at the school this week.
The new playground at PS 77 and PS 198M, located on Third Avenue and East 95th Street, features upgraded play equipment, new safety tiles and additional seating. Improvements were funded with $500,000 from the 2017 participatory budgeting cycle, with local City Councilmember Ben Kallos chipping in an additional $100,000 to finish the project.
"Children and adults alike are getting a lesson in democracy as they get to enjoy the playground for which they voted and campaigned," Kallos said at a ribbon cutting for the new playground. "Thank you to the parents and students age 11 and older who voted for this new playground and saw it built while they were still students at the school."
New Yorkers will be able to register to vote online later this week — but the process will take even more time than snail-mail enrollment.
The Campaign Finance Board’s new web portal will go online this Thursday after the Board of Elections voted to add another step to the process, making enrolling through the new system even more cumbersome than traditional paper registration.
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has scrapped a controversial private development on an Upper East Side public housing complex after fierce pushback and a lawsuit against the project.
NYCHA withdrew its application for a 50-story building on a playground at the Holmes Towers development it had planned with Fetner Properties. The building was intended to be the first of NYCHA’s 50/50 projects—rental towers built by private developers on public housing property—and was set to rise 530 feet above East 92nd Street with 339 apartments.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a likely 2021 mayoral candidate, and City Council Member Ben Kallos, the lead sponsor of the bill, defended the legislation, including retroactivity that will make candidates return money raised in 2018 above new lower donation limits if they choose to opt into the newer of two programs that has more public matching.
That portion of the bill stands to benefit Johnson and hurt competitors like Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
“We are literally doing something that is entirely consistent with what we did three months ago and now all of a sudden we are being criticized for it,” Johnson said at the press conference, referring to actions the Council took to make new campaign finance rules approved by voters last year apply to the special election for Public Advocate.