Lower Manhattan residents are not shying away from the creation of reasonably priced housing in their part of the city and are lobbying the powers that be to make 5 World Trade Center (5WTC) 100% affordable.
With activists expressing little faith that the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing (MIH) law will have any serious impact on the affordability, a group dubbed the Coalition for a 100% Affordable 5WTC rallied on Thursday for Empire State Development and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to make it happen.
“This is public land with development funded by public money and it should be for affordable housing so that people can stay. Particularly we want 9/11 survivors and first responders to have a place to stay,” Vittoria Fariello, a district leader in downtown, said. “We have this building – 80 stories – imagine what it would be like. We would be pioneers of affordable housing, why would we not do that?”
But the group found themselves disappointed with PANYNJ officials and those from the state who told Community Board 1’s executive committee that the project may not be feasible unless the residential units are rented or sold at market rate.
Currently, the partnering organizations plan for 25% permanent affordable housing to accommodate New Yorkers making no less than $42,000 for individuals and $59,000 for a family of four. This equates to about 350 homes.
Justin Bernbach said during the Wednesday community board meeting that PANYNJ had given up space lost not only to 9/11, but also to the memorial that now stands in place of the Twin Towers. In order to “make themselves whole” financially, 100% affordable housing may simply not be in the cards.
But, Bernbach asserted, the agency has not taken a full account of what there capital needs will be for the 5WTC project.
“This [land] swap – I wasn’t here at the time – but it wasn’t based on any precise numbers, precise evaluations of the property. It was a neutral exchange of properties that was seen to be in the public interest,” Bernbach said. “So, we couldn’t know then what the valuation of that would be, there was no way, to think in terms of whether made whole and this transaction, that’s kind of the subject of the ongoing lease negotiations, which are not complete yet. So I know the next question would naturally be, ‘okay, well what are you earning,’ and I’ll not answer that.”
Not only is PANYNJ missing out on office space revenue from the loss of the Twin Towers property, but he states that they depend largely on Port Authority Trans-Hudson fares and tolls for capital projects such as 5WTC.
The activist’s call has received backing from elected officials at the federal level; Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney as well as Congressman Jerrold Nadler.
“While I applaud the current plan to develop 5WTC as primarily a residential tower, there is a great community need for additional affordable housing,” Maloney said in a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul on Aug. 31. “The neighborhood is already saturated with luxury housing, and much of this housing stock is currently vacant, including in buildings in the immediate vicinity of 5WTC. New Yorkers are in dire need of affordable housing, including deeply affordable and housing for low to moderate income individuals and families.”
Thursday morning, Hochul told reporters that any decision from the state to acquiesce to the request for 100% affordable housing would need to be discussed further with stakeholders such as PANYNJ or Silverstein Properties.
“I’m going to have that conversation [with Port Authority] and find out what the recommendations are and do what’s best,” Hochul said Thursday morning. “Regardless of where it is, I have had conversations with our commissioner of housing as recently as yesterday to talk about the desperate need for more affordable housing all over the state… This is not just a downstate [issue], it’s not just Long Island, the city, it is all over the state and we are going to be presenting a very bold comprehensive plan to address those critical needs right now.”
Democratic nominee for City Council District 1, Christopher Marte, hopes the agencies planning the 5WTC build will come forth with the financial outlook for the project for transparency purposes.
“We have a really good opportunity to bring affordability to this community, especially now when there’s a city-wide narrative of say, let’s make white, wealthy neighborhoods more equitable and more affordable,” Marte said. “Why isn’t everyone a supporter of this? It’s on public land. We could get both federal, state and city voucher subsidies to go into this and try to make it a model of what should be built in the future.”
PANYNJ Executive Director Rick Cotton prudent in his own statements Thursday afternoon following a board meeting.
That would be the largest single commitment of affordable units that Lower Manhattan has seen,” Cotton said. “There is a process that will go forward in terms of thinking through a response to the affordability issue that’s been raised. There is a public engagement process required… Right now the agencies are discussing how to proceed.”
In February, PANYNJ officials said they may begin work at the site at 130 Liberty St. by 2023.
With additional reporting from Kevin Duggan.