Affordability Advocates Rally to Delay Agency Vote on Five World Trade Center
A rally to demand a larger-than-planned number of affordable housing units at the last remaining development parcel in the World Trade Center complex drew elected officials and community leaders to the steps of City Hall on Monday morning. The Coalition for a 100 Percent Affordable Five World Trade Center voiced opposition to a plan for predominantly luxury housing at the site, and support for a grassroots vision to create apartments for mixed-income residents, including survivors of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Vittoria Farrielo, a leader of the group, said, “this month, we expect the Port Authority [the government agency that has control of the site] to vote on a plan that will allow for only 25 percent affordable housing at Five World Trade Center. This 25 percent would get us 330 homes, at a maximum. But Lower Manhattan has lost thousands of affordable units in the years since September 11, 2001.”
City Council member Christopher Marte said, “we are demanding a pause on this upcoming vote and that the Port Authority come back to the table. We need to build the maximum amount of affordable housing Downtown. Every year that we lose affordable units in Lower Manhattan makes this community much whiter, much richer. When the City is trying to use racial justice as a narrative to rezone neighborhoods, we see our city, state, and federal governments take no action to build affordable housing in Lower Manhattan for people who desperately need it.”
Community Board 1 chair Tammy Meltzer observed, “the Mayor keeps saying he wants New York to be a city of ‘yes.’ We want this to be the community of ‘yes.’ Yes, this building can be built with affordable housing. Yes, it can be maximized. Yes, we have people living in Lower Manhattan who are not billionaires and millionaires. And yes, this community should be accessible for all of us, whether you work as a barista, or recently passed the bar exam.”
The focus of this campaign is the proposal, approved in 2021 by the Port Authority and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (another state agency), to erect a 900-foot-plus tower on the publicly owned vacant lot that occupies the three-quarter-acre block bounded by Greenwich, Albany, and Washington Streets, and Liberty Park. This plan calls for a 78-floor building, including 69 floors of rental units, comprising 1.2 million square feet of residential space. Of the 1,325 apartments planned for the structure, 25 percent (or approximately 330 units) will be permanently affordable homes, set aside for households earning less than 50 percent of the area median income (AMI), or below $51,200 for a family of three.
The Coalition for a 100 Percent Affordable Five World Trade Center was formed in response to this plan. “The goals of our coalition are to make sure that tower built at Site Five of the World Trade will be a fully affordable building, with a preference given to September 11 survivors, first responders, and their families,” explains Ms. Fariello.
The plan approved by the Port Authority and the LMDC is predicated on a policy axiom dictating that the site must generate as much (or more revenue) on a per-square-foot basis as the office developments that have been erected elsewhere within the complex. This arbitrary requirement effectively renders it administratively impossible that Five World Trade Center be dedicated to any public service purpose that does not maximize financial return.
Such a policy is contradicted by multiple other nearby uses. The leases granted by the Port Authority and LMDC to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center, and the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine (all located within the World Trade Center complex) rent many acres of publicly owned land—worth hundreds of millions of dollars—at a price of one dollar per year to each of the non-profit organizations that operate those facilities.
The Coalition for a 100 Percent Affordable Five World Trade Center has engaged a team of urban planning consultants who have devised a program that envisions a slightly smaller building at the site, combined with multiple tiers of affordability (including units set aside for low-income, moderate-income, and middle-income residents) that would need very little subsidy from taxpayers. But such a plan would require waiving the demand for any residential building on the site to generate as much income as an office tower.