New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

AM New York

AM New York Op-Ed | New York City has enough vacant apartments to house the homeless: It’s time to do it by Ben Kallos Fredrick Shack

Op-Ed | New York City has enough vacant apartments to house the homeless: It’s time to do it

Op-Ed | New York City has enough vacant apartments to house the homeless: It’s time to do it

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New York is not dead, but tens of thousands of apartments here are empty. This presents an unprecedented opportunity to house every New Yorker experiencing homelessness. As a city we have a moral mandate to permanently house our homeless now. We can do so by creating tens of thousands of affordable housing units in existing empty apartments, including in our tallest buildings and wealthiest neighborhoods. No matter what neighborhood we live in, we can all welcome unhoused New Yorkers onto our block and into our buildings.

This morning, over 18,000 children woke up in a city shelter. Just over 10,000 families account for a 30,000 person majority of those living in shelters. With over 15,000 vacant Manhattan rentals and 4,100 vacant condominiums dating back before the pandemic, we now have more vacant apartments than homeless families. The city should buy these vacant condominiums and secure long-term leases on vacant rental apartments to provide transitional and permanent housing for the homeless. Opening up space in family shelters would then allow single adults experiencing homelessness to utilize buildings currently used as family shelters, enabling social distancing and providing greater privacy than the dormitory style shelters, where the majority of single adults currently reside, sleeping in rooms with many people close together.

Prior to the pandemic, New York City paid $3.2 billion a year on costly shelter beds and commercial hotels. We pay far more to shelter families than it would cost to supplement their rent and provide them with a permanent home. According to the Mayor’s Management Report, it costs over $6,000 per month to provide shelter for a family with children, and approximately $3,900 per month to shelter a single adult, and those costs will rise this year to accommodate Covid-19 public safety measures. Meanwhile, the average length of stay in shelter has only gotten longer. According to last fiscal year’s reporting, families with children average 443 days at a shelter and single adults average 431 days—despite the thousands of vacant apartments waiting for renters.

New York City needs to be bold and start using these empty apartments to house our homeless.

The city should start by renting apartments directly, then sublet to homeless New Yorkers. While we currently spend over $6,000 per month to provide shelter, median rents in Manhattan have dropped to below $3,000. Even by renting apartments in expensive Manhattan neighborhoods, the city would see savings and could cover utilities, groceries and social services.

With historically low mortgage rates, buying condominiums and cooperatives to house the homeless would be an even better long-term investment. In fact, there are more than 4,600 homes and apartments for sale in New York City with 2 bedrooms or more, whose monthly payments would come in far below the $6,000 budgeted limit. The $6,000 a month high-water mark opens up our city’s wealthiest neighborhoods from the Upper East Side to Brooklyn Heights. Money saved on apartments at the lower end of the cost spectrum would bring savings and help pay for stabilizing social services from providers in the community. This would end the status quo where homeless shelters are disproportionately sited in poor neighborhoods, and it would help desegregate and open doors to all communities for formerly homeless New Yorkers.

We’ve tried incremental solutions that have not proven enough. The city offers a rent supplement called CityFHEPS that can be accessed by both those currently residing in shelter and those on the brink of eviction. Unfortunately, the voucher only allows rent well below Fair Market Rent, making it virtually impossible to use. Short of more sweeping action, passing City Council bill, Introduction 146, authored by General Welfare Chair Steven Levin would improve the functionality of this voucher by increasing the amount of rent it can cover.

The State must also step up and do its part. There are two bills in the State legislature to create state-wide housing subsidies: Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi’s Home Stability Support and  Senator Brian Kavanaugh’s Housing Access Voucher. Home Stability Support would provide a housing voucher that covers 85% of market rent to those who qualify for Public Assistance and are either homeless or face an eminent loss of housing. The Housing Access Voucher would be accessible to households with an income at or below 250% of the Federal Poverty Level (or less than $54,300 annually for a family of 3), and recipients would pay 30% of their income towards rent. These bills would go a long way toward enabling the city to finally secure permanent housing for all.

As many New Yorkers who are housed struggle to weather the economic storm caused by the pandemic, it might seem unfair to take such drastic measures to house the homeless. A New Yorker just barely making rent might worry that their new neighbor is dealing with drug and mental health problems and getting a handout without having done the same hard work. One might even fear that their new neighbor has lied or exploited the system in some way, an echo of the infamous myth of the “welfare queen.”

The reality is that evictions and lack of access to affordable housing are the primary cause of homelessness. As for the relatively small percentage of homeless New Yorkers who face mental health or substance use disorders, we must not criminalize these conditions, but rather introduce social services to help stabilize their lives. We know that housing first models work, and that in order for anyone to begin the process of receiving mental health treatment or reducing their substance use, they first need their most basic needs met: a warm bed to sleep in, a place to shower, and 3 meals a day.

Ultimately, the introduction of any new social safety net program will raise concerns about who is benefitting most and who is losing out. But when we begin to treat housing like a human right, this zero-sum game will take a back seat to meeting the basic expectations of a society that believes all people deserve a home.

Where some see New York City as dead with thousands of vacant apartments, we see the opportunity to permanently house our homeless. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We can wake up in a city that is full and thriving, with housing occupied by families, children, and grateful neighbors. That’s a city we want to live in.

Ben Kallos is a New York City Council Member and Co-Founder of the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS).

Frederick Shack is Chief Executive Officer at Urban Pathways, a leading nonprofit serving approximately 3,700 at-risk and homeless New Yorkers each year through a full continuum of services including street outreach, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing residences. 

AM New York Op-Ed | New York City has enough vacant apartments to house the homeless: It’s time to do it by amNY News

Op-Ed | New York City has enough vacant apartments to house the homeless: It’s time to do it

New York is not dead, but tens of thousands of apartments here are empty. This presents an unprecedented opportunity to house every New Yorker experiencing homelessness. As a city we have a moral mandate to permanently house our homeless now. We can do so by creating tens of thousands of affordable housing units in existing empty apartments, including in our tallest buildings and wealthiest neighborhoods. No matter what neighborhood we live in, we can all welcome unhoused New Yorkers onto our block and into our buildings.

This morning, over 18,000 children woke up in a city shelter. Just over 10,000 families account for a 30,000 person majority of those living in shelters. With over 15,000 vacant Manhattan rentals and 4,100 vacant condominiums dating back before the pandemic, we now have more vacant apartments than homeless families. The city should buy these vacant condominiums and secure long-term leases on vacant rental apartments to provide transitional and permanent housing for the homeless. Opening up space in family shelters would then allow single adults experiencing homelessness to utilize buildings currently used as family shelters, enabling social distancing and providing greater privacy than the dormitory-style shelters, where the majority of single adults currently reside, sleeping in rooms with many people close together.

Prior to the pandemic, New York City paid $3.2 billion a year on costly shelter beds and commercial hotels. We pay far more to shelter families than it would cost to supplement their rent and provide them with a permanent home. According to the Mayor’s Management Report, it costs over $6,000 per month to provide shelter for a family with children, and approximately $3,900 per month to shelter a single adult, and those costs will rise this year to accommodate Covid-19 public safety measures. Meanwhile, the average length of stay in shelter has only gotten longer. According to last fiscal year’s reporting, families with children average 443 days at a shelter and single adults average 431 days—despite the thousands of vacant apartments waiting for renters.

New York City needs to be bold and start using these empty apartments to house our homeless.

AM New York A spooky Gracie Mansion rally calls for safer bike lanes, bridges for people by Todd Maisel

A spooky Gracie Mansion rally calls for safer bike lanes, bridges for people

Dozens of cyclists on Halloween, dressed in their spooky best, haunted the exterior of Gracie Mansion on All Hallow’s Eve to send a message to the mayor to provide more cycling space, especially for crowded East River bridges.

Costumed cyclists from all five boroughs rode to the historic mayoral residence on East 86th Street to call for more pedaling space on New York City’s bridges — specifically the Brooklyn Bridge and Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge, which they say are dangerously crowded for pedestrians and cyclists.

Organized by Transportation Alternatives’ #Bridges4People campaign, the cyclists gathered with three Councilmembers Ben Kallos (who came dressed as Captain America), Brad Lander (who dressed as The Magician) and Carlos Menchaca (who appeared as himself). All three have been staunch advocates of cyclists in the city and their efforts to make it safer to transverse the city’s bridges.

AM New York A ‘ferry’ big deal: Mayor, local officials laud NYC Ferry extension in Queens by Angelica Acevedo

A ‘ferry’ big deal: Mayor, local officials laud NYC Ferry extension in Queens

Mayor Bill de Blasio joined community leaders in Astoria, Queens, on Friday for a ride on NYC Ferry’s new extension from Astoria to the Upper East Side.

Last week, the NYC Ferry service announced it would finally expand the line to connect the neighboring boroughs, after years of advocacy from Astoria community leaders. The line will offer a direct connection from 3-10 Astoria Blvd. to 90th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Before they embarked on what Manhattan Councilman Ben Kallos called a two-minute ride across the river, the mayor held a press conference with Kallos, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Economic Development Corporation Executive Director James Wong at Astoria’s pier.

AM New York Op-Ed | New Yorkers can’t wait for pedestrian paths on Queensboro Bridge to open any longer by Ben Kallos, Jimmy Van Bramer

Op-Ed | New Yorkers can’t wait for pedestrian paths on Queensboro Bridge to open any longer

Thousands of New Yorkers bike, walk, and run over the Queensboro Bridge each day. The bridge has nine lanes for car traffic, yet only a narrow path along the northern edge of the bridge is open to cyclists and pedestrians, causing conflicts, congestion, and in the age of COVID, dangerous crowding. As the Queens and Manhattan council members whose districts border the bridge, and whose constituents depend on this critical inter-borough connection, we are calling on the city to open the South Outer Roadway to pedestrians.  

AM New York ‘Words matter’: New York City set to remove offensive immigrant terms from codes of law by Robert Pozarycki

‘Words matter’: New York City set to remove offensive immigrant terms from codes of law

New York is set to become the first major American city to remove legal language that many believe refers to undocumented residents in a negative light.

The City Council passed Thursday legislation that would expunge the terms “alien,” “illegal immigrant” and “illegal migrant” from local laws, rules, orders, city documents and other materials. The terms will be replaced by the word “noncitizen.”

Forty-six of the 50 City Council members present at the May 28 remote stated meeting supported the legislation.

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Seven City Council members co-sponsored the legislation, including Brooklyn’s Farah Louis; Queens’ Daniel Dromm and Costa Constantinides; and Manhattan’s Ben Kallos, Keith Powers, Carlina Rivera and Helen Rosenthal.

AM New York Tuesday hearing eyes combat pay for New York’s essential workers during pandemic by BEN VERDE

Tuesday hearing eyes combat pay for New York’s essential workers during pandemic

“If I had to go out to work, I would have to pay for childcare that I normally would not have to pay for because my child would be at school,” she said. “That is an essential cost.” 

Also included in the package is a bill sponsored by Lander, with Councilman Ben Kallos and Council Speaker Corey Johnson, that would require businesses to provide just cause when firing essential workers, in the hopes that workers do not feel intimidated to speak up against workplace conditions or organize with other employees. 

The trio’s legislation comes after Staten Island Amazon warehouse worker Chris Smalls was fired by the e-commerce giant after organizing a protest of conditions at his facility. 

AM New York City Council introduces bundle of coronavirus relief bills during first virtual meeting by ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH

City Council introduces bundle of coronavirus relief bills during first virtual meeting

One bill in the package, introduced by Councilmembers Ben Kallos, Brad Lander and Speaker Johnson, proposes an expansion of “whistleblower” protections for essential workers from being fired without “just cause.”

In early April, Lawmakers planned to propose legislation to protect healthcare workers after reports of hospitals threatening to fire doctors and nurses for speaking out about personal protective equipment shortages. The legislation now protects any essential worker, like a healthcare or transit workers, and those working in any essential business like a grocery store, pharmacies, post offices or food bank.

“With the pandemic everything that is wrong with our society has been magnified,” said Councilmember Kallos. “ In many cases people who are saying that we don’t have the protection, you are sending us to war without any weapons, are being retaliated against…having these protections will mean that somebody doing the right thing is not going to lose their job.”

AM New York First ExpressCare clinic opens for patients in Manhattan by BETH DEDMAN

First ExpressCare clinic opens for patients in Manhattan

NYC Health + Hospitals opened an ExpressCare clinic at their Metropolitan location Feb. 3, the first of the chain of clinics to open in Manhattan, according to a press release. 

The clinic will treat non-life-threatening conditions such as colds, flu, sprains, rashes, minor cuts and lacerations and certain types of infections, according to the press release. It will operate seven days a week from 6 p.m. to midnight on weekdays and 10 a.m. to midnight on weekends and holidays. 

The clinic will provide faster treatment for these conditions than would be available in the emergency department, according to the press release. The physicians employed at the clinic will also help connect patients to primary care doctors in the NYC Health + Hospitals system for follow-up care. 

Redirecting non-life-threatening treatment from the emergency department will help reduce wait times for patients in need of immediate emergency care, said Alina Moran, CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan, in the press release.

“We are excited to add a new health care option for the community we serve in East Harlem and upper Manhattan,” Moran said in the press release. 

This is the fourth ExpressCare clinic in the NYC Health + Hospital system, with other locations in Elmhurst, Lincoln and Queens, according to the press release. 

The clinic will operate in a shared space with the Geriatric Outpatient Services until construction on the permanent location is complete in several months, said Noel Alicea, the public relations representative for NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan.

NYC Council Member Diana Ayala, the representative for District 8, helped secure the $1.6 million for the construction of the clinic. 

AM New York C.B.5 Parks and Public Spaces Committee votes to support chemical pesticide ban by Chriss Williams

C.B.5 Parks and Public Spaces Committee votes to support chemical pesticide ban

Councilmembers Ben Kallos and Carlina Rivera’s bill banning the use of chemical pesticides in city green spaces is gathering community support. 

Manhattan’s Community Board 5 Parks and Public Spaces Committee, which covers a center slice of Midtown from 59th to 14th Sts., unanimously passed a resolution in favor the legislation on Monday Feb. 3. 

“It’s a very dangerous chemical,” said spokesperson for Councilmember Rivera Jeremy Unger. “This is long overdue.” Under the bill, the Parks Department would be prohibited from using pesticides with glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular weed killer Roundup. In 2013, Parks sprayed Roundup 1,300 times. Since 2014 the agency has cut their use of glyphosate-based weed killers by 70 percent, a spokesperson said. When Parks does use glyphosate, it does not spray the chemical inside of playgrounds, dog runs or “when the public is in the immediate vicinity” the spokesperson added. 

At the meeting, Unger cited a 2015 World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research of Cancer (IARC) study which linked glyphosate to cancer as evidence to do away with the synthetic weed killer. But there is not a complete consensus in the scientific community on the effects of the compound on humans which some members of the community board brought up. 

“There is substantial debate and controversy and it’s not settled,” said committee member Tod Shapiro. He then asked Unger if the “feel good legislation” was sort of a liberal “hobby horse political thing, divorced from actual substance?”

Two years after the WHO study, the European Commission reauthorized the pesticide until 2022. And earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reiterated their 2019 stance on the chemical stating that there are “no risks of concern to human health” when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label.  The EPA decision comes a year after high-profile case were a California couple claimed they got non-Hodgkins Lymphoma after using Roundup for years.