New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Affordable Housing & Overdevelopment

Council Member Ben Kallos Fighting for Affordable Housing & Against Overdevelopment

As lifelong tenant, Ben knows what it's like to have his rent spiked to force his family out, and during a high-risk pregnancy no less. Living through this pandemic in a market-rate one-bedroom with his wife, daughter, and cat, Ben knows first hand that despite all the vacant apartments everyone is talking about New York City still has an affordable housing crisis.

Real estate developers get billions in tax breaks, corrupt politicians get thousands in contributions, and tenants pay for it all. That's why Ben has always refused big money from real estate developers, corporations, and lobbyists. This has freed Ben to fight for tenants by building and preserving affordable housing and against the displacement of affordable housing by overdevelopment.

Hundreds of thousands of affordable homes will now be available for re-rental thanks to a law Ben wrote, with 6,000 affordable homes built or preserved on city land under his oversight and 1,000 affordable apartments built or preserved in his district alone. Ben also won the first-of-its-kind, community-led rezoning to stop Billionaire's RowHe then led the rezoning of residential neighborhoods throughout the city to stop the construction of artificially all buildings with empty voids just to give billionaires better views. Ben even wrote the law to turn down the volume on after-hours construction.  And he won three rent freezes for one million rent-regulated tenants.

As Borough President, Ben will continue working for tenants, fighting to 

  • Build tall and build affordable
  • Create real investment, repairs, and rights for NYCHA tenants, and 
  • Stop Billionaire's Row

Fresh Ideas: Affordable Housing & Overdevelopment

Net Housing Change Map of Manhattan

As a person who’s lived on the Upper East Side his entire life, Ben's seen more construction in recent years more than ever before. Yet, a report in The City recently shared that despite all the new construction the Upper East Side actually hasn't made much gains in terms of net new housing units over the past decade.

As a software developer, Ben rolled up his sleeves and reviewed the data. What Ben found from this data is that for every new building that goes up, we lose multiple 4-, 5- and 6-story walkups with dozens of rent-controlled and -regulated housing that is truly affordable. In return we end up with sky high market-rate units that don't really add to many more units then were lost let alone add any affordable units over what we had. Of note, is that the buildings we are losing are low-denisty, with new buildings having 2 or 3 times the density, in a neighborhood that has the highest density in the country. If the increase in density isn't adding units, then maybe we need more comprehensive measures.

One solution that Ben has proposed before and that he would champion as Borough President would be to require developers putting up new housing to replace every single unit of affordable housing that they are destroying.

More Fresh Ideas: Affordable Housing & Overdevelopment

Underhoused Family in NYC

As a new dad and a lifelong tenant, Ben knows how hard it is to find an apartment you can afford that is actually big enough for a family. In fact, Ben doesn't know many, if any families that aren't under-housed, where family members have to share at least one room. Ben himself spent much of the pandemic renting a market rate one-bedroom with his wife and daughter. This is in part because there is no requirement for developers to build anything other than studio and one-bedroom apartments and in the Mayor's quest to build 300,000 units of affordable housing, our city has lost sight of the most important element of all this, the people who live there. As a result a recent report found that the city is actually losing thousands of apartment a year to conversions that are merging apartments to create 2- and 3-bedrooms. The fact is we need to build more apartments with 2, 3 and 4 bedrooms.

As Borough President, Ben will require our affordable housing plans to count the people who can live in an apartment, not just the number of units, and force every new building to include apartments big enough for families.


Learn more about Build Housing for Families.
Community Board Reform

Ben got his start on Community Board 8 Manhattan where he fought to reform his Board starting on day one. Community Board 8 didn't have a Youth or Education committee, so he helped start them and even began efforts to recruit public members. When Board Members didn't show up, he supported his chair using powers under the Charter to remove them. As a Council Member, Ben Kallos, authored a report on Community Board reform with recommendations to:

  1. Improve Outreach and Recruitment
  2. Standardize the Application Process
  3. Restore Public Trust

As Borough President, Ben will implement many of the recommendations that have worked to change the face of his community board throughout the borough of Manhattan.


Learn more about Community Board Reform.
Drone Inspections of Buildings

Scaffolding covers 386 miles of sidewalk in New York City, equal to the distance from here to Canada. While it’s hard to imagine that the City’s scaffolding problem could get any worse, 7,342 sidewalks sheds have been added since April 2018 with each remaining erect for 1,514 days on average—that’s more than 4 years. As Ben told NY1, we need building owners and landlords to take care of their buildings, rather than putting up scaffolding for a loose brick and leaving it up for years. The good news is that a bill Ben co-sponsored with Housing and Buildings Chair Robert Cornegy became law to require the Department of Buildings to study the use of drones for inspecting building façades.

As Borough President, Ben will pass a law to allow facade inspections using drones so building owners can save time and money and most importantly avoid putting up sidewalk sheds and scaffolding for no reason.

Community Board Veto

As a member of Community Board 8 Manhattan, Ben was frustrated by Council Members who ignored resolutions in opposition from the community board and the Manhattan Borough President, to get side deals that seemed to only help that politicians campaign coffers. Since Ben Kallos became a Council Member he has always supported his community board, never voted against them on a land use matter, but that's been the exception.

The Community Boards along with their Borough Board and their Council Member or Borough President must be able to initiate Uniform Land Use Review Procedures (ULURP) completely funded by the City or with a triple no have a veto. As a Council Member, Ben Kallos proposed this as a Charter Revision and as Borough President will take the proposal to the voters.

Ben Kallos Gale Brewer Bill de Blasio Board of Standards and Appeals

Ben Kallos is the only council member to support the first of its kind community-led grassroots rezoning to stop the mark of super tall towers from Billionaire's Row into residential communities. No sooner did Ben and the community win the rezoning then did the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) overturn the rezoning to let a developer build an 800 foot tower. Even when the community wins, they still lose, whether at the BSA or at the courts.

The Board of Standards and Appeals, serves one purpose, and that is to provide relief from zoning laws, which can often put it at odds with City Planning and the community. As chair of the powerful Government Operations Committee in the Council and working with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Ben previously won reforms at the BSA, which were an important first step. As an attorney who has represented the community pro-bono, Ben will introduce legislation that will force the courts to do a de novo review or start from scratch in reviewing challenges brought by the community.

House Homeless Families in Vacant Apartments Now

More than 16,000 children wake up in a city shelter every day. 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. Ben has a bold proposal to use vacant apartments to house the homeless now by having the city to buy these vacant condominiums and secure long-term leases on vacant rental apartments to provide transitional and permanent housing for the homeless.

Rent Roll Back for Rent Regulated Tenants with Ben Kallos

As a I lifelong tenant, Ben has been fighting over the past seven years I have rallied alongside tenants from around New York City calling on the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) to roll back rents or issue freezes for all 1 million rent-stabilized tenants. In 2014, we won the lowest rent increase in history at 1%. In 2015, we won the first-ever rent freeze from the RGB, and in 2016, we won a second consecutive rent freeze from RGB. In 2017 through 2019, we were able to win another historic low increase of only 1.25% and 1.5%. In 2020 another rent freeze was accomplished during the height of the pandemic.

These were huge victories that translate into real savings in the pockets of everyday New Yorkers. They are only a small respite for tenants who lived through far-too-high increases over the previous 20 years when rent has outstripped inflation by 14%. The increases were particularly burdensome during the Bloomberg Administration when rent increased significantly despite the economic recession. We need a rollback to correct for these increases so the more than 1 million rent-stabilized apartments continue to be affordable for the residents living in them. With the pandemic further exacerbating economic conditions for New York City renters there is no more adequate time for a rent roll back than right now.

As Borough President, Ben Kallos will keep showing up for tenants at the Rent Guidelines Board to continue winning rent freezes and to finally win a rent roll back.

We need more housing that is affordable to every New Yorker. Unfortunately, real estate developers would rather build skyscrapers and supertall towers for billionaires then the housing we need.

Development in New York City is governed by a two-dimensional measure of density, ill-equipped to regulate today's market forces, that allows real estate developers to build the same amount of housing in a building 500-feet tall, when it would just as easily fit in a building 200-feet tall. That's why Ben funded studies by Friends of the Upper East Side Historic District and CIVITAS to see how we can use restrictions on building heights to mandate the construction of new affordable housing on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Community Board 8 Manhattan has issued resolutions in support of this plan to require any building over a certain height to include affordable housing.

As the next Manhattan Borough President, Ben will win a rezoning to require any building over a certain height to include affordable housing, everywhere in Manhattan.

Billionaire's Row from Central Park

After years of out-of-control, out-of-scale over-development, I wanted to put residents over real estate, and we did. In late 2017 we accomplished what many described as impossible. We won the first of its kind grass-roots community rezoning in this City for the Sutton Area.

With the invaluable help of the committed members of the East River Fifties Alliance, we stopped the march of super-tall buildings for billionaires from 57th Street into the Sutton Area. The rezoning initially removed the grandfather clause and will protect the Sutton Area East of First Avenue from 52nd to 59th st. from future supertall towers by limiting zoning lot mergers, limiting the width of towers, and forcing most of the air rights to be used in the base of a building.

We were able to accomplish this thanks to the support of residents like you. Heroes like Herndon Werth and Charles Fernandez stood up to buyouts and threats from billionaires. Leaders like Dieter Seelig, former President of the Sutton Area Community got us started and Alan Kersh, Robert Shepler, Jessica Osborn, and Lisa Mercurio put countless volunteer hours into ERFA.


Learn more about Stop Billionaire's Row.
Urban Planners for Community Boards

Community Board members consist of 50 volunteers who don't get paid with staff largely dedicated to running the meetings and ensuring adequate public notice. This leaves developers with projects in a very strong position with their teams of higher gun experts who can run circles around the community board. As a Council Member, Ben Kallos discovered the difference that having an urban planner could make for a community board. That's why Ben funded urban planners for the community boards he represents. Then Ben introduced legislation to guarantee every board an urban planner and when he couldn't get it passed took it directly to the voters who overwhelmingly supported the proposal. Since then Mayor de Blasio has failed to provide the urban planners.

As Borough President, Ben will work with the next Mayor to fulfill this promise and if they won't as an attorney he will sue to to provide urban planners for every community board.