Councilmember Ben Kallos touted his office’s work with constituents on housing issues in his recent state of the district address, and looked forward to several initiatives in 2016.
“As a constituent and advocate myself, then candidate, and now council member, I have always been frustrated with how government can be opaque, closed, unaccountable and broken,” said Kallos, addressing a room of community leaders and residents at Memorial Sloan Kettering on East 67th Street. “What if we started to change all that - empowering our community - what would that look like?”
Kallos said his constituent services team and roughly a dozen graduate students in social work have helped more than 4,000 people in his district, and that legal clinics supplied by his office have provided individual counsel to nearly 250 other constituents, “who are trying to stay in their homes or get heat back in their apartments.”
He also revealed a lofty goal: to personally meet all 168,413 people who live in his district.
Kallos said his team worked with constituents facing everything from poor conditions to evictions, with the goal of protecting housing in the district. “I grew up here; I want to raise a family and grow old here, too,” said Kallos. “We must protect our affordable and public housing, and combat the forces of overdevelopment.”
One of Kallos’ signature achievements occurred when he, Borough President Gale Brewer and State Senator Liz Krueger opposed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan, which called for adding height to the contextual height caps that allow for the East Side’s quiet side streets. “We opposed the measure…so developers wouldn’t tear down rent stabilized buildings to get more height,” said Kallos. “And the Department of City Planning heard us, and agreed to protect the midblock.”
Midblock buildings in the district are capped at 75 feet, Kallos said.
Fighting superscrapers has also been a theme for Kallos. When residents of the Sutton Place alerted his office to a proposed 90-story building in the neighborhood, he said, his office worked with local residents to form the East River Fifties Alliance.
“Under the leadership of President Alan Kersh, the alliance has worked with our office to organize the community behind an effort to rezone the neighborhood to draw the line on billionaires row at residential neighborhoods,” he said. “Integral to this community effort are Herndon Werth, the ‘Sage of Sutton,’ and Charles Fernandez, who have rejected buyouts and resisted harassment, and stayed in their apartments, saying the light and air and history of our neighborhood are too important to demolish for a superscraper.”
Kallos said all of these campaigns, whether they’re local or citywide, “are meant to address the issues that you have brought me and my team.”
But, Kallos noted, the best is yet to come.
He said he plans, as chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, to continue to focus on improving democracy, transparency, and increasing access to government resources.
Kallos touted legislation he’s sponsoring that would provide government benefits to everybody who qualifies automatically, with no application or renewal required, using information the government already has to increase efficiency and reduce bureaucracy.
Kallos’ said in the meantime his office can already help residents get the benefits they’re entitled through a 25-minute screening process at his office or online at nyc.gov/ACCESSNYC.
“Whether or not you have a title, all of us in this room are leaders in some aspect of this neighborhood and city,” concluded Kallos. “Whether on the community board, your neighborhood association, your building, your PTA, or in your home, your experience and expertise in our community can bring value to the rest of us. Thank you for your partnership and I hope to see you over the next year as we work to make the Fifth Council District and New York City an even better place to live.”