World Trade Center’s first residential tower sparks fight for affordable housing

Two decades after September 11, 2001, the last block of reconstruction of the World Trade Center is taking place.

A proposal from 900-foot residential skyscraper on “Site 5”, which once housed the Deutsche Bank building, is under construction. It will include 1,325 apartments, a quarter of which will be said to be affordable, or rented below market price.

But as the 20th anniversary of the attacks approaches, some locals are pushing for something different: why not make the building a place where survivors and their families can live, with all units set at affordable and adjusted rents in income function?

To Mariama James, a longtime downtown resident who said she struggled with health issues related to 9/11 and lost her father to related cancer, take this course is the right thing to do.

It would represent recognition from the residents who made Lower Manhattan a “phenomenal” place to live after the attacks, she said.

“These are the people who have been asked to stay here, not to leave and to live, basically, in a war zone – to move here as a result of this, or to go back to their destroyed homes and rebuild them. . We did it. You asked and we did it, ”she said. “And there was no compensation for it. There were no thanks.

James is co-founder of a new coalition Lower Manhattan residents and housing advocates are rallying to push several public agencies and two mega-developers, Brookfield Properties and Silverstein Properties, to change course on the site plan 5.

The building is slated to be the first residential property in the downtown complex and the last major site to be redeveloped there since the 2001 attacks.

A big boost for the city center

The current site plan provides for around 995 market-priced apartments and 330 affordable housing units, also known as low-income apartments, as they are rented to families in specific income categories.

Affordable housing will be reserved for families representing up to 50% of the region’s median income. With a local FRIEND of $ 107,400, a family of three earning only about $ 53,000 a year could secure a spot in the tower.

Will Burns, spokesperson for Empire State Development – which oversees the Site 5 development proposal through its subsidiary, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation – described the new building as offering “the most ‘affordable apartments built in Lower Manhattan for decades’.

The proposed mixed-use tower also includes 12,000 square feet of community space, 55,000 square feet for public amenities, Burns noted.

The 330 units in the current proposal would significantly increase the affordable housing stock available in the area. In 2012, research conducted by the local community council showed a total inventory of 946 affordable rental units in the neighborhood.

Since 2014, three buildings with a total of 131 affordable units between them have been constructed in the Lower Manhattan community neighborhood that encompasses the WTC, according to a menu tracking of new affordable units compiled by the city’s housing department.

“Slowly get into a box”

But it is not enough for those who organize like The Coalition for an Affordable World Trade Center Tower Five.

“It’s like saying, ‘Isn’t that nice? Three hundred potential affordable housing units? ‘ No! We’re over 300 people, ”said Taylor Banning, a 28-year-old coalition member who was born in Gateway Plaza in Battery Park City and has lived in the neighborhood for most of her life.

She observed that longtime neighbors struggled to stay in the area or were overpriced. Seniors on fixed incomes are particularly vulnerable, she said.

People who were children in the area on September 11 and are now adults – like her – say they have little hope of finding their own home in a neighborhood that has become one of the the most expensive in town.

Taylor Banning, a 9/11 survivor and a resident of Lower Manhattan, wants more affordable housing in the neighborhood on July 14, 2021.
Ben Fractenbeg / THE CITY

“It’s a wealthy neighborhood, for sure. I recognize him. But many of the families who have been here since September 11 are not all wealthy. They have jobs. They are trying to support themselves, ”Banning said. “At some point, the people who have held out are slowly being eliminated. Young people cannot come back.

The coalition formed this spring after the Port Authority and LMDC – the two state-controlled entities controlling the site – in February announced Brookfield and Silverstein as the promoters of the residential project.

The main goals of the group are to see a 5 WTC building that is 100% affordable housing, and to give preference for some of these units to 9/11 survivors and their families – in the same way as housing lotteries run. by the city often give an advantage to neighborhood candidates or officials.

“A much needed accommodation”

But those goals are going to be a tough sell for a project that’s been in the works for years – and aims to use the development as a way to raise money for several big-ticket items within the WTC complex.

Each time Site 5 is built, the proceeds will go to the Port Authority as reimbursement for a land swap that allowed for the construction of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum as well as a performing arts center, currently under construction, on land controlled by the Authority.

The LMDC had previously purchased Site 5, also known as 130 Liberty St., with HUD funds and took responsibility for its notorious demolition of a decade which resulted in the deaths of two firefighters and cost $ 160 million.

However, the value of sitemap 5 is unknown. A 2019 memorandum outlining the deal – obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by affordable housing coalition member Todd Fine, and shared with THE CITY – redacted estimated revenues from the development proposal .

Neither ESD nor the Port Authority disclosed any financial information about the deal.

Amber Greene, spokesperson for the Port Authority, said the agency “is still negotiating the terms of the lease and as such the project remains an open market.”

In a statement, Brookfield spokesman Andrew Brent said: “On a site that was envisioned entirely as office space, the development will add much-needed housing, including hundreds of housing units. affordable, as well as beneficial community space in Lower Manhattan. “

An investigation in Silverstein was not returned.

“This is public land”

Increasing the number of affordable apartments in the Site 5 building would require an injection of public funds to make up the difference between below-market rents and the cost of building and maintaining each apartment. Without it, Brookfield and Silvesstein – or any other developer – might decide it’s not worth going ahead with the build.

Which public entity would take responsibility for this effort is unclear. Site 5 is under the jurisdiction of the LMDC and the Port Authority, but the affordable housing service as well as the Federal Ministry of Housing and Urban Development are also involved.

Between city, state, and federal governments – as well as the two-state port authority – Fine, a Lower Manhattan historian and coalition member, sees an opportunity.

“We have these four different entities. Any of them could change their mind, ”he said.

“It’s alphabet soup,” coalition member Jill Goodkind said of the clutter of surveillance agencies.

She is the widow of downtown activist and musician Tom Goodkind, who had been pushing for more affordable housing in Lower Manhattan for years before his death from 9/11-related cancer in 2019.

Her advocacy serves as a sort of guide for the group, clarifying their purpose despite the complexity of the project, she said.

“People are all going to say, ‘Affordable housing, affordable housing’ and will never do anything about it,” she said. “This is the opportunity. It is a public domain. Public funds went to buy this land. Now is the time and I hope this message will resonate. “

A long way to go

The coalition held its first public meeting earlier this month, and reached out to elected officials, local tenant groups and housing advocates to join the cause.

Members handed out flyers to first responders during the July 7 Broadway tape parade, and James says their documents reached Sen. Chuck Schumer, defeating Democratic Mayor Eric Adams and an assistant to the governor. Andrew Cuomo.

“They didn’t throw it in the trash,” James said with a laugh.

9/11 survivor and Lower Manhattan resident Mariama James spoke about the lack of affordable housing around the World Trade Center on July 14, 2021.

9/11 survivor Mariama James wants low- and middle-income families to be able to live around the World Trade Center on July 14, 2021.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

Even in its current state, the Site 5 project has a long way to go before any construction can begin. Greene, of the Port Authority, said a finalized rental agreement is expected by the end of the summer. This deal with Brookfield and Silverstein requires a number of approvals from LMDC, Port Authority and ESD.

Moreover, since the original WTC General plan of the project, or GPP, of LMDC calls for Site 5 to become commercial development, residential construction requires modification of the project plan.

Changing the GPP would require approval by the LMDC board of directors and the State Public Authorities Review Board, as well as a review by the Attorney General’s Office and the State Comptroller. It will also be subject to a new environmental review.

This process will likely last until at least next summer, according to an official with knowledge of the project.

Meanwhile, Goodkind vowed the group “will fight as hard as they can,” she said – because “the need for affordable housing is so desperate” and “the need for luxury housing is. not at all “.

James agreed.

“We are surrounded by empty luxury towers as is the case,” she said.

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