World Trade Center Apartments Will Move Ahead as One-Third Affordable

By Arthur Schwartz

5 World Trade Center Site. Credit: The Tribeca Citizen.

Heaven knows, the Lower Manhattan Community needs some affordable housing. Looks like the first big addition will be a little south of the Village at the World Trade Center. On July 27 Governor Hochul announced that an agreement had been reached to locate 400 income-restricted units at 5 World Trade Center, the only residential project planned for the World Trade Center site. This is a marked increase from prior proposals but falls short of the 100 percent affordability some advocates had sought.

Construction will start next year on 1,200 apartments on public land in Lower Manhattan, the site of the former Deutsche Bank building damaged during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The 5WTC project, led by a development team including Silverstein Properties and Brookfield Properties, will have 400 apartments designated as affordable.

“I say that 1,200 units, one third of them affordable, is far better than no outcome at all,” Hochul said at a press conference at nearby 3 World Trade Center. “So we teamed up, took a bold approach, powered through the obstacles, and again brought this back from the grave.”

Of the affordable units, 80 will be offered to people who lived or worked in Lower Manhattan during 9/11, according to the governor’s office. The land is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The July 27th announcement followed a vote that morning by the state’s Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), allowing the project to advance and approving $60 million in state funding, as well as $5 million from the Battery Park City Authority.

A planned 5WTC vote had been removed from the agenda at last month’s PACB meeting, according to state Senator Brian Kavanagh, who represents the area, as well as Greenwich Village. At that time, Kavanagh said, he was dissatisfied with the proposed affordability levels—360 apartments for households earning between 60 and 110 percent of the area median income (AMI), or $72,060 to $132,110 for a family of three.

“We made it clear that it wasn’t really acceptable as proposed at that stage,” Kavanagh stated. The new $65 million in funding “preserves deep affordability while going from 300 [affordable] units to 400 units,” he added, referencing the site’s original proposal for the number of affordable homes. The affordability advanced Thursday ranges from 40 percent to 120 percent AMI—$50,840 for a family of three on the low end and $152,520 on the high end.

The Governor’s office did not provide a precise breakdown but Kavanagh said the range is 84 apartments each at 40, 65 and 80 percent AMI, plus 74 units each at 100 and 120 percent AMI. The potential for deeper affordability is baked into an accompanying PACB resolution, Kavanagh added, if more funding materializes in the coming months.

“Basically if additional money becomes available, anytime between now and next April, the developer and the state agencies said that they’ll negotiate and provide additional affordability,” he said.

Rachel Fee, Executive Director of the New York Housing Conference, said the 5WTC deal will bring much needed affordable housing to the neighborhood. “The deal they struck is a really balanced one,” she said. “It’s both the engineering, the labor, all of that is a scale we don’t typically see for affordable housing.”

Reactions were mixed from members of the Coalition for a 100% Affordable 5WTC.

Todd Fine, founder of the historical preservation-focused Washington Street Advocacy Group, said that he had become frustrated with a lack of transparency from Empire State Development, a state economic development entity involved in the plan. By scaling down the project to rein in construction costs, the state could have negotiated more deeply-affordable apartments overall, he said, citing a feasibility study the coalition had funded. Fine called this a “missed opportunity.”

Vittoria Fariello, the local Democratic District Leader and coalition member who attended the press conference, called the deal a “good start”—particularly the preference for 9/11 survivors—though the AMI set-asides north of 80 percent were “a surprise, for sure.” Fariello expressed hope that more funding will be secured in the coming months to deepen affordability in a desirable area. The site is on top of a public transportation hub with access to parks, jobs and high-performing schools. “So many of my neighbors have already left because they can’t afford to live here anymore,” she said.