Developers hung a rendering of 5 World Trade Center on a fence around the construction site, July 14, 2021.
World Trade Center’s first residential
tower sparks affordable-housing fight
BY RACHEL HOLLIDAY SMITH
Two decades after Sept. 11, 2001, the
last re-building block of the World
Trade Center is coming together.
A proposal for a 900-foot residential skyscraper
on “Site 5”, formerly home to the
Deutsche Bank Building, is in the works.
It will include 1,325 apartments, a quarter
of which will be so-called affordable, or
rented below market rate.
But as the 20th anniversary of the attacks
arrives, some locals are pushing for
something different: Why not make the
building a place where survivors and their
families can live, with all of the units set at
income-adjusted, affordable rents?
To Mariama James, a longtime downtown
resident who said she struggles with
9/11-related health issues and lost her father
to a related cancer, taking that course
is the right thing to do.
It would represent a recognition of the
residents who made Lower Manhattan a
“phenomenal” place to live after the attacks,
“It’s the people who were asked to stay
here, not to leave, and to live, basically,
through a war zone — to move here in
the aftermath of that, or to return to their
homes that had been destroyed, and rebuild
them. We did it. You asked, and we did it,”
she said. “And there’s been no compensation
for that. There’s been no thanks.”
James is a co-founder of a new coalition
of Lower Manhattan residents and housing
advocates rallying to push multiple public
agencies and two mega-developers, Brookfi
eld Properties and Silverstein Properties,
to change course on the Site 5 plan.
The building is set to be the first
residential property within the downtown
complex, and the last major site to be
redeveloped there since the 2001 attacks.
A Big Boost for Downtown
The current plan for the site calls for
about 995 market-rate apartments and
330 affordable-housing units, also known
as income-restricted apartments because
they are rented to families within specifi c
household earning categories.
The affordable units will be reserved
for families making up to 50% of the
area median income. With a local AMI of
$107,400, a three-person family making
only about $53,000 annually could secure
a spot in the tower.
Will Burns, a spokesperson for Empire
State Development — which oversees the
Site 5 development proposal through its
subsidiary, the Lower Manhattan Development
Corporation — described the newly
planned building as delivering “the largest
number of affordable apartments built in
Lower Manhattan in decades.”
The proposed mixed-use tower also
includes 12,000 square feet of community
space, 55,000 square feet for public amenities,
The 330 units in the current proposal
would boost the area’s available affordable
housing stock signifi cantly. In 2012,
BEN FRACTENBERG/THE CITY
research by the local community board
showed a total inventory of 946 units of
affordable rentals in the district.
Since 2014, three buildings with a total
of 131 affordable units between them have
been built in the Lower Manhattan community
district that encompasses the WTC,
according to a map tracking new affordable
units compiled by the city’s housing
‘Slowly Getting Boxed Out’
But it’s not enough to those organizing
as The Coalition for an Affordable World
Trade Center Tower Five.
“It’s like saying, ‘Isn’t this nice? Threehundred
units of potential affordable housing?’
No! We’re more than 300 people,”
said Taylor Banning, a 28-year-old member
of the coalition who was born in Battery
Park City’s Gateway Plaza and has lived
in the neighborhood for most of her life.
She’s watched as longtime neighbors
have struggled to stay in the area, or been
priced out. Seniors on fi xed incomes are
especially vulnerable, she said.
People who were children in the area on
9/11 and are now adults — like herself —
say they have little hope of fi nding their
own homes in a neighborhood that has
become one of the city’s priciest.
“It’s a wealthy neighborhood, for sure.
I recognize that. But a lot of the families
who have been here since 9/11 are not all
wealthy. They have jobs. They’re trying to
sustain themselves,” Banning said. “At a
certain point, those people who stuck it out
are slowly getting boxed out. The young
people can’t come back.”
The coalition formed this spring after
the Port Authority and the LMDC — the
two state-controlled entities with control
over the site — in February announced
Brookfi eld and Silverstein as the developers
of the residential project.
The group’s main goals are to see a 5
WTC building that is 100% affordable
housing, and to give a preference for some
of those units to 9/11 survivors and their
families — similar to how city-run housing
lotteries often give an edge to applicants
from the neighborhood or to public
‘Badly Needed Housing’
But those aims 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 funds for several big-ticket
items within the WTC complex.
Whenever Site 5 is built, the proceeds will
go to the Port Authority as repayment for a
land swap that allowed for the building of the
Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum as well as a
performing arts center, under construction
now, 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,
decade-long demolition that resulted in
the death of two fi refi ghters and cost $160
How much the Site 5 plan is worth, however,
is unknown. A 2019 memorandum
outlining the deal — obtained by a Freedom
of Information Law request by a member of
the affordable housing coalition, Todd Fine,
and shared with THE CITY — redacts
the appraised revenue of the development
Neither ESD nor the Port Authority disclosed
fi nancial information about the deal.
Amber Greene, a spokesperson for the
Port Authority, said the agency is “still negotiating
lease terms and as such the project
remains an open procurement.”
In a statement, Brookfi eld spokesperson
Andrew Brent said: “On a site that was contemplated
entirely as offi ce space, the development
will add badly needed housing,
including hundreds of units of affordable
housing, as well as benefi cial community
space in Lower Manhattan.”
An inquiry to Silverstein was not returned.
This story was fi rst published on July
20, 2021, by THE CITY, an independent,
nonprofi t news outlet dedicated to hardhitting
reporting that serves the people of
New York. Read more at thecity.nyc.
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