Born in Naturita, Colorado, Been graduated from Colorado State University. After working for Consumers Union, she received a law degree from the New York University School of Law, where she was a Root-Tilden scholar. Upon graduation, she clerked for judge Edward Weinfeld of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Then she clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Harry Blackmun from 1984 to 1985. During her clerkship, she met her husband, Richard Revesz, who was clerking for Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall.
After working for the Iran-Contra investigation and as an associate at Debevoise & Plimpton, Been began her academic career in 1988, joining the faculty of Rutgers-Newark School of Law, as an assistant professor. In 1990, she moved to the NYU law school, where she achieved tenure, in 1994 and serves as the Boxer Family professor of law. In 2004, she was named director of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. In 2008, she was named an affiliated professor of public policy at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. She is a member of the American Law Institute.
Been began her academic career as one of the first law professors to address the area of environmental justice, focusing on equity considerations of the siting of undesirable land uses. She later turned her focus to the study of takings and eminent domain, writing articles on Supreme Court cases Palazzolo v. Rhode Island and Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council. As Director of the Furman Center, she has written extensively on New York City housing issues, publishing an annual State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods. She has also written on impact fees, foreclosures, community benefits agreements, parking requirements, inclusionary zoning, second liens, and assessing the impact of Superstorm Sandy on New York City neighborhoods.
On February 8, 2014, New York mayor Bill de Blasio announced that Been would serve as the next commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. She succeeded RuthAnne Visnaukas in that role.
During Been's tenure, she undertook several initiatives to increase affordable housing in the city. In February 2016, Been defended a zoning proposal to allow taller buildings in exchange for more affordable housing units. In March 2016, Been gave a speech promoting her plan to foster development in East New York. A March 2016 report found growing demand for affordable housing, and Been explained the city's policy was to encourage developers to build more housing units. In May 2016, her office stated it received 2.5 million applications for 2,600 affordable apartments in the city program. In October 2016, she promoted the city's update of the Lambert Houses in the Bronx. In November 2016, her office initiated enforcement action seeking to make city landlords of affordable housing "play by the rules" or risk losing valuable tax exemptions.
On January 17, 2017, she announced she would step down as commissioner and return to teaching full time at New York University. Her departure came amidst resignations by other aides in the city administration.
Been has served on the boards of the Municipal Art Society, Next City, the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, and the Pratt Center for Community Development.
Been lives with her husband, a former dean of the NYU School of Law, Richard Revesz, and their two children, in New York City.Been, Vicki (1993). "What’s Fairness Got to Do with It? Environmental Justice and the Siting of Locally Undesirable Land Uses". Cornell L. Rev. 78 (6): 1001–1085. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
Been, Vicki (2003). "NAFTA's Investment Protections and the Division of Authority for Land Use". Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 20 (1): 19.
Been, Vicki L. (2005). "Impact Fees and Housing Affordability" (PDF). Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research. 8 (1): 139–185. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
"The Brian Lehrer Show--Vicki Been Discusses Annual Housing Report". WNYC Radio. April 30, 2012. Retrieved August 11, 2017.