New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

AM New York

AM New York Upper East Side park to receive major facelift backed by nearly $8.9 million in funding by Emily Davenport

Upper East Side park to receive major facelift backed by nearly $8.9 million in funding

An Upper East Side park is getting a full and complete renovation thanks to over $8.9 million in discretionary funding from local elected officials.

Ruppert Park, located at 1741 2nd Avenue, was originally built in 1979 and last received $192,000 in funding from then-Council Member Gifford Miller for new benches, sidewalk repairs, planting areas and play equipment. Now, nearly 25 years later, the park will be getting a much-needed upgrade.

Funding for the project comes from Council Member Ben Kallos, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Member Keith Powers and from the City Council through Speaker Corey Johnson. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Community Board 8 and NYC Parks, as well as community stewards for Ruppert Park from the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Muslim Volunteers for New York and nearby Knickerbocker Plaza all joined in heralding the announcement.

“Ruppert Park has needed an overhaul since I was kid and no one wanted to play there. As a dad in the neighborhood, this is the closest park where I can take my 3-year-old daughter and even she gets bored here. I can’t believe it took my lifetime, but Ruppert Park is going to get a complete redesign to become a destination park in the neighborhood that everyone will want to go to,” said Council Member Kallos. “Thank you to Speaker Corey Johnson, Council Member Keith Powers, Assembly Member Dan Quart, Congresswoman Maloney, the Parks Department and the community for their partnership and investment in Ruppert Park.”

“The pandemic has illuminated the importance of well-maintained public space in our neighborhoods. For decades, Ruppert Park has been a jewel of the Upper East Side. I am proud to have helped secure funding for its renovations and look forward to spending time there for years to come,” said Council Member Powers.

AM New York Nurses rally at hospitals in Manhattan seeking new laws for ‘Safe Staffing’ by Dean Moses

Nurses rally at hospitals in Manhattan seeking new laws for ‘Safe Staffing’

Nurses and advocates chanted, “Never again!” during Tuesday’s rally, where were joined by elected officials such as Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, City Council Member Carlina Rivera, and City Council Member Ben Kallos, among others. 

According to the NYSNA, at Mount Sinai’s main campus and Sinai West, workers are continuing to report chronic short staffing and a lack of supplies, with managers rationing PPE. They also stated that NewYork-Presbyterian has increased bed capacity within the Critical Care Units, Step Down and Med Surg units to handle any increase in COVID-19 patients as well as continuing lucrative elective procedures.

AM New York These New York City lawmakers had the best environmental records in 2020 by Robert Pozarycki

These New York City lawmakers had the best environmental records in 2020

Manhattan’s 10 City Council members are keeping it 100 when it comes to protecting the environment, according to the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV).

The Manhattan delegation at City Hall scored 100% on the NYLCV’s annual City Council Scorecard for 2020, as the 10 members actively supported a dozen eco-friendly bills presented last year. It’s the first time in the scorecard’s history that an entire borough’s City Council delegation had a perfect rating, the NYLCV reported.

The grades were primarily based on the legislators’ support or opposition to a slate of 12 environmental bills before the City Council in 2020. The legislation included topics such as transforming Rikers Island from a jail to a green energy hub; boosting rent regulation; phasing out diesel school buses; banning plastic straws; permitting e-bike and e-scooter usage; and creating more organic waste drop-off sites and recycling programs.

AM New York Yang looks to put an end to perennial scaffolding over city sidewalks by Mark Hallum

Yang looks to put an end to perennial scaffolding over city sidewalks

Kallos, however, has directed legislative efforts against scaffolding through Int. 1353, which will require the DOB inspect scaffolding that has been up for more than a year at least every six months from that milestone at the owner’s expense. This also has not made it further than the Committee on Housing and Buildings.

“Our city is literally crumbling with scaffolding to catch the falling bricks, only they aren’t working, and people are still dying,” Kallos said. “The only solution is for building owners to actually have to make repairs in days not years under legislation I’ve proposed. If we can’t pass scaffolding legislation now, our next Mayor will have to finally chase the blight of scaffolding from our city.”

AM New York Maloney and other elected officials celebrate Mayor’s and Parks commitment to repair East River Esplanade by Dean Moses

Maloney and other elected officials celebrate Mayor’s and Parks commitment to repair East River Esplanade

Councilmember Ben Kallos is grateful for the Mayor’s allocation of $284 million to the East River Esplanade, but he wants repairs to start now.Photo by Dean Moses

“At this point we are three quarters of a billion, and some of the money is moving. We were able to get a repair done on 76th Street in less than six months during a pandemic, but now the challenge is to say to the Mayor, ‘Thank you for the money, start the work now,'” Kallos said.

Now the funds have be allocated, residents are keeping their eyes peeled, waiting for the announcement of when they can expect construction to begin.

AM New York Supermarket-style food pantry opens in Upper East Side by Dean Moses

Supermarket-style food pantry opens in Upper East Side

City Council Member Ben Kallos joined members of the East Side Task Force for Homeless Outreach in celebrating the Dec. 10 grand opening. This new location will help distribute locally grown produce and other healthy groceries, offering a community diner that serves restaurant quality meals, clothing rooms and even a transitional mailing address, in addition to the wide array of social service resources. 

“Our neighborhood is proud to welcome anyone in need, whether you are from midtown or downtown, Manhattan is sticking together to get through these tough times,” said  Kallos, a founder of the East Side Taskforce for Homeless Services. “I am proud to have partnered with our faith-based organizations and fellow elected officials to be able to open a much-needed community center like this one.”

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.