New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Press Coverage

New York City desperately needs relief from congestion, but the current “congestion pricing” plan was never intended to do that. It was a thinly veiled tax on low-income workers who must still show up in person to raise funds for a mass transit system crumbling under the weight of its own corruption and bureaucracy. Now is the time for a better plan that will actually reduce congestion.


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.


What’s happened to attempts to get scaffolding taken down more quickly?
The main legislative attempt was a bill first introduced by then-District 5 City Council member Benjamin Kallos in 2016. The Kallos proposal would have given owners six months to finish repairs required by Local Law 11. After that, if a building façade still hadn’t been repaired, city employees would do the work and send the owner a bill. And the scaffolding would come down.

Soon after Kallos introduced his bill, the city unveiled its online map showing just how much scaffolding is out there and how long it’s stayed up. The New York Times editorial board hailed the map for revealing that sidewalk sheds can be “as durable and mysterious as the monoliths of Stonehenge.” It seemed like the map might give a boost to the Kallos proposal.

The bill did get a hearing in a city council committee, where restaurant and retail owners enthusiastically endorsed it, while the Real Estate Board of New York was opposed. The Department of Buildings testified that the city did not have the resources to step in and do repairs if owners didn’t make the deadline.

The bill never came up for a vote, though Kallos continued to speak out, labeling sidewalk sheds “the house guest that never leaves” and noting that some scaffolding “is almost old enough to vote.” His sound bites gained media attention but failed to build enough support among council colleagues. Kallos blames the real estate industry’s opposition for the death of his bill; Crain’s New York Business reported that it didn’t help when Kallos lost some clout in internal council politics, endangering the scaffolding bill that he had made a top priority.

Kallos was term limited out of his council seat and lost a bid for Manhattan Borough President last year. In a recent interview he told West Side Rag that he was not aware of any current council members planning to reintroduce his bill. As long as the city continues to allow unlimited time extensions, “no one’s forcing [building owners] to make the repairs,” he said.


The attorneys at the council’s legislative division wield significant power in deciding whether to advance a bill, basing it on a number of factors, including if a bill can stand legal scrutiny. This stage can take months or even years, given the extent of legal research that’s required, said former Councilmember Ben Kallos, who represented Manhattan.

“Most legislation dies in drafting,” Kallos said.

But should the team determine it is feasible for a proposed bill to be enacted, then they get to work on wording the bill, using language that can take months to hash out.

“It goes through a lot of reviews,” Kallos said. “The more complicated the issue, the longer it takes.”

Hearings usually can run for five minutes or 12 hours, the standard cap. From there, Kallos said, the speaker’s office, bill sponsor, committee chair, and committee decide whether to proceed. If so, they alert the mayor, and the council’s attorney begins to further flesh out the bill with help from the city Law Department.

“Sometimes these changes are very minor, and sometimes we’re talking about a completely new bill,” Kallos said.

A bill requires 26 members, or a simple majority, for it to pass. However, a speaker can choose not to put something to a vote unless they expect the bill will pass with a supermajority, composed of 34 or more in the council. Such votes are secured to send a message to the mayor that a bill is veto-proof, Kallos said, as a supermajority will override a mayor’s veto.


City Council Member Ben Kallos said he hopes an expansion of data collection will help curb discrimination in communities of color


The City Council has passed a bill that would require homeowners and tenants who list their properties on websites like Airbnb to pay a fee and register with the city. That way, the city can confirm if it’s legal to rent out that address.

All advertisements would then be required to include a valid registration number.

Upper East Side councilman Ben Kallos introduced the legislation.

“We have hotels in places for a reason, and we have residential neighborhoods for a reason, and no one wants to move into a building and find themselves surrounded by hotel rooms,” he said.

Kallos notes for buildings with more than three apartments, state law only allows short-term rentals for less than 30 days when the resident renting it out is home at the same time.


New legislation will require hosts of short-term rentals to register with the city — the latest move in a long battle between New York and the rental companies.

Airbnb recently announced that it had its best quarter ever, reflecting a surging thirst for travel and tourism as the pandemic’s grip loosens. But in New York City, the company is at the center of a different narrative: City leaders, after fighting for years to limit the proliferation of illegal short-term rentals, are poised to impose more stringent restrictions on the online platform.

The City Council on Thursday is expected to approve a bill that would for the first time require hosts to register with the city before renting out their homes on a short-term basis or for less than 30 days. The measure mirrors regulations in other cities like Boston and Santa Monica, Calif.

In New York City, one of Airbnb’s biggest domestic markets, city officials and housing advocates have long complained that landlords and tenants have exacerbated the housing crisis by circumventing laws and setting aside homes to rent out for a few days at a time to tourists or other visitors. Short-term rentals are often more lucrative than long-term leases.

And the hotel industry, which has been decimated by the pandemic, has long complained about Airbnb and similar online rental companies, accusing them off siphoning away business.

The new bill is designed to prevent rentals that violate those laws — including a New York State law that largely bars apartment rentals for less than 30 days when the host is not present — from even appearing online. Supporters said the new restrictions could lead to the gradual removal of thousands of listings for such illegal rentals from short-term rental websites.

“We don’t have enough housing, and anything we can do to put housing back on the market is a good thing,” said Councilman Ben Kallos, a Democrat who represents the Upper East Side and is a sponsor of the bill.


Roosevelt Island, NY—Elected and school officials, students and Roosevelt Island community leaders joined together to cut the ribbon to officially announce the opening of a new green space on the roof at PS/IS 217.

Elected officials contributed up to $1.75 million to fund the project. $1 million in funding comes from Councilman Ben Kallos (D-5), who, when he first entered office, decided that voters in his district would decide how to spend up to $1 million in participatory budgeting each year.


UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — An Upper East Side school that is largely starved of outdoor space will soon have some on its own roof, thanks to millions pledged by local lawmakers — and voted on by neighbors.

Officials gathered Monday at the Yorkville Community School/P.S. 151, where work began during the pandemic on a $2.5 million outdoor play space on top of the building. It will be completed next year.

About half of the funding came from Councilmember Ben Kallos's office, including $500,000 that was chosen by Kallos's constituents in 2015 through his participatory budgeting process.


New York, NY—Outgoing Council Member Ben Kallos (D) is again allocating funds to his constituents in District 5. This time the recipients are the students of the East Side Middle School, who will benefit from a $1.4 million allocation to convert a section of a library into a “maker space” and a renovation of the basement area into an art studio.

$500,000 will go towards the maker space, which will feature a digital fabrication center, an art classroom and a computer lab, while $937,000 will pay for the basement-level art studio.


MANHATTAN – Thanksgiving is just days away and some Upper East Siders have another reason to be thankful, after Council Member Ben Kallos and the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center teamed up on Monday to give away hundreds of frozen turkeys to families-in-need and public housing residents in Yorkville.

“We’ve been giving out free turkeys for eight years since I first took office, and I’m so proud that this is our biggest year yet,” said Council Member Ben Kallos.

Joining Kallos for the turkey giveaway Monday afternoon was Council Member-elect Julie Menin, who will take his place representing the Upper East Side— as well as Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center Executive Director Gregory Morris.

The three, along with volunteers from the Neighborhood Center— which is located inside the New York City Housing Authority’s Isaac Houses and Holmes Towers developments on East 93rd Street— passed out five hundred turkeys to public housing residents and families.


“I am still reaching out to them asking them to come to the table,” Kallos told Community Board 8 on Wednesday night.

“It’s hard to stomach all this happening without the community being at the table. So please keep your hopes up. Please fight, fight, fight to the very end because you never know.”

“This really wasn’t about blood,” Kallos said. “Its all about this Longfellow commercial tower. The Longfellow commercial tower offers their tenants something called Elevate, which is curated experiences from yoga to Peletons ... to free flowing wine and beer. This was something that was particularly important for their experience because according to Longfellow ‘nobody goes to work to work anymore.’ And it seems like we were taking a lot of steps to make Longfellow happy in this process so they would give money to what is essentially a worthy nonprofit.”

“Eleven stories is 110 feet except in this project,” Kallos said. “Could they just lower their heights? Could they get rid of 37 feet of mechanical in the middle of the building? Could they go to having 20 foot floors and 18 foot floors to a more reasonable 14 feet?”

The Community Board also heard from a key figure in the deal, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who had dropped her opposition to the project when the Blood Center agreed to lower the height of the building.

She seemed almost apologetic for her reversal. “I do not know how the city council will vote,” she said.

“I couldn’t get the number down from 233 down to 210 or under 200. I tried. Many, many meetings. I was unable to do it. At that point I said ‘I can’t do anything else.’”

Which is, she said, when she and Council Member Keith Powers, who represents an adjacent district, decided to support the Blood Center project, but “not enthusiastically at all.”


City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, has led the opposition. “The overall narrative everyone is giving is like, ‘Oh, this is all about NIMBY, this is about a nonprofit and this is about shadows,’” he said. “At the end of the day, this is about an 11-story tower that is somehow 233 feet tall that is a glorified office space for wealthy people.”

Mr. Kallos noted that the Blood Center, under current zoning, could construct a building on the site exceeding 200,000 square feet without additional city approval, more than the amount of space the center plans to occupy in the proposed tower.


A real estate developer who’s pushing for a controversial rezoning in partnership with the New York Blood Center would receive $100 million in additional benefits under a plan recently outlined by Mayor de Blasio’s administration.

De Blasio has come under fire in recent days for backing the rezoning because he owes $435,000 to a lobbying firm that represents the Blood Center, a nonprofit blood bank that’s partnering with Longfellow Real Estate Partners to expand its headquarters.

In a letter to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) dated Nov. 10, de Blasio’s director of legislative affairs, Paul Ochoa, makes clear that city’s Industrial Development Agency would provide $100 million in tax breaks to Longfellow under the development deal.

Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), who represents the Upper East Side district where the rezoning is being proposed, said the benefit is just one more sop de Blasio is offering a well-connected developer.

Kallos said that “$100 million is a lot of money. It comes out to more than a billion in subsidies over decades, and I want to know how long it’s going to take for the city to get a return on our tax dollars because I don’t think we ever will.”

It’s far from the first time de Blasio has had to weather attacks from Kallos, who has suggested that the mayor’s debt to Blood Center lobbyist Kramer Levin Naftalis amounts to a bribe that could be having undue influence over the mayor in his support of the rezoning.

But Team de Blasio has countered that in January, the mayor made it a priority to make the Big Apple a center of life sciences, in large part as preparation to better face COVID and any future pandemics.

The Blood Center rezoning would accomplish that, according to de Blasio spokesman Mitch Schwartz.

“Months ago, the mayor invested $1 billion toward making New York City the life sciences capital of the world,” Schwartz said. “It’s the right way to rebuild our economy and prepare for public health challenges. And if major companies want to innovate and create jobs in the heart of our city, then we’ll vet their projects and work with them to identify appropriate incentives they qualify for.”

Schwartz also noted that Longfellow is entitled to the tax break and that such breaks exist to encourage agendas like the one outlined by de Blasio in January.

Rob Purvis, the Blood Center’s executive vice president and chief of staff, said the center and Longfellow are “aggressively pursuing funding opportunities to support” the project “through city programs for which it may be eligible including [city Economic Development Corp.) LifeSci funding and [Industrial Development Agency] benefits for development projects.”

“[New York Blood Center] and Longfellow are having positive conversations with the city, but no formal application or agreement has been made yet for city funding for this project,” he added.


Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), who represents the Upper East Side district where the rezoning is being proposed, said the benefit is just one more sop de Blasio is offering a well-connected developer.

Kallos said that “$100 million is a lot of money. It comes out to more than a billion in subsidies over decades, and I want to know how long it’s going to take for the city to get a return on our tax dollars because I don’t think we ever will.”


The fight over the new Blood Center building was never about blood. It has been about two other issues: How high should the center’s for-profit partner Longfellow Development’s commercial offices tower over a residential neighborhood, and how should the City Council handle development deals in the years to come?


Mayor de Blasio and other elected officials would be required to disclose debt repayment plans under a newly drafted City Council bill that Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) is hoping to pass before the end of the year.

Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, has criticized de Blasio in recent days for refusing to disclose his plan to repay about $435,000 in debt he owes to Kramer, Levin & Naftalis, a law firm that represents several clients with business before the city and which defended de Blasio against federal corruption charges going back to 2015.


UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — The Upper East Side's popular John Jay Park soon will have its sitting area transformed, thanks to a $650,000 project that broke ground on Wednesday.

The project is the first major renovation effort at the FDR Drive park since 2011.

Council Member Ben Kallos and parks officials said the sitting area project — which began planning in 2018 — will bring it up to the level of its playground, outdoor sports open area and New Deal-era swimming pool.


New York City Council member Ben Kallos (D), who represents the island and provided $70,000 in discretionary funding for the accessible elements of “The Girl Puzzle,” said he couldn’t wait to take his 3-year-old daughter to see the installation. It was his hope, he said, in the same way the “Fearless Girl” on Wall Street became a tourist attraction, that “The Girl Puzzle” could inspire the next generation.

“America is having a long-overdue look at systemic racism and systemic discrimination against women,” Kallos said. “And in that conversation, we are talking about our statues, our monuments, the way we remember history, and part of that is making sure that we start to recognize women for their part in history as well.”