A new tower at the World Trade Center will include 360 affordable apartments under measures approved by two key government bodies — more than previously promised, but short of the 100% sought by advocates.

Developers of the planned 5WTC would set aside 30% of 1,200 apartments as income-restricted affordable housing under measures approved by the boards of the Port Authority and Empire State Development this week.

Previously, the plan called for 25% of the project’s unit to be income-restricted housing. Though it now includes more affordable apartments, the newer plan sets those units aside for households earning more money than in previous iterations of the proposal.

A team led by Silverstein Properties and Brookfield Properties is readying to erect the 900-foot-high building at the southern edge of the complex, which sits on public land — the last empty development site within the World Trade Center campus.

A group of people impacted by the 9/11 attacks, the Coalition for a 100% Affordable 5WTC, had called for a 100% affordable residential tower, especially to aid 9/11 survivors and their families. They and allied elected officials have asked for the government agencies to pause the project and find a way to expand the affordable housing even more.

The group garnered political support, including from Rep. Dan Goldman (D-Manhattan/Brooklyn) and Councilmember Christopher Marte (D-Manhattan), who represent the area. Meanwhile, other politicians and housing advocates have questioned whether providing deep subsidies to enable all apartments to be affordable in a new high rise would be the best use of public funds.

The state’s Public Authorities Control Board, controlled by state legislative leaders, must still clear the project. A next meeting of the PACB has not yet been set.

Previously, Empire State Development staff had stated that 25% of the units would be affordable within the tower, targeted to households earning between 40% to 80% of the New York City area median income, or between $48,040 to $96,080 for a family of three.

This week, staff from both agencies in their presentations said the area median income (AMI) for the income-restricted units would be 85% on average, with a total range between 60% to 110% of AMI. That’s equal to between $72,060 and $132,110 for a family of three. 

Emily Leng, a representative for state Sen. Brian Kavanagh, testified on behalf of him during the Port Authority meeting Thursday that he and other elected officials and community stakeholders had been pushing for more funding streams to help subsidize more affordable housing at the building, and said that the agency’s recent move to seek approval on the project came as a surprise. 

“We want to reiterate that we are unanimous in our opposition to moving forward with the public approvals for the proposed project and related real estate transactions at World Trade Center Site 5 at this time,” Leng said. “5 World Trade Center is publicly owned land and a tremendous opportunity to build sorely needed large-scale affordable housing downtown.”

Last Chance for Public Land

The 5WTC site is the location of the former Deutsche Bank building, which had been heavily damaged in the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) purchased the property for $160 million back in 2004 with HUD funds and embarked on the demolition of the building. 

As part of a 2006 deal, the LMDC agreed to swap the land where the tower will go up with Port Authority for the area used for the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and the performing arts center that’s slated to open later this year. The money generated from the lease of the site 5 property will go to the Port Authority, which will rake in at least $12.5 million a year once construction finishes according to the terms of the agreement. 

Lower Manhattan resident Mariama James looks over the World Trade Center development site, July 14, 2021. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Mariama James, co-founder of the affordable housing coalition who lives just blocks away from the World Trade Center, said that the public land should be used to help those struggling to stay in the neighborhood. She said that she’s not giving up and will continue to urge those inside and outside of her area to call their elected officials and push for more affordable housing in the development.

To her, the changes to the percentage of affordable housing aren’t necessarily positive.

“By making it more affordable — a larger percentage — they made it less affordable by removing the deepest AMI” James said, referring to the higher income requirements. 

Path to 100% Narrows  

To state officials, the boost in the number of affordable units is a win, regardless of the income level within the units.

During a Monday board of directors hearing, ESD executive Tobi Jaiyesimi touted the increase to 30% affordable housing units at 5WTC, which she said came after several public hearings with members politicians, the local community board and members of the communities. She added that one-third of the affordable units would be set for people earning no more than 60% of AMI. 

“This means that 360 low- to moderate-income earning households will be able to apply to live in Lower Manhattan,” she said.

She also added that while the project will now move forward with 30% affordable units, there is still a possibility for more affordable units “if public subsidy or public source of funding is identified by April 2024.”

She shared estimates from the development team for what it would cost to add to the affordable housing: setting aside 37.5% at an average of 80% of AMI would cost an additional $120 million, she said. Getting to 50% affordable units would require a half billion dollars in subsidy.

Jaiyesimi also pushed back on numbers produced by the coalition for a 100% Affordable 5WTC, which had said a 1,600-unit building would require $600 million in subsidy, while a 800-unit one would require $154 million in subsidy. She said the coalition’s proposal did not account for the cost of operating and maintaining the tower in perpetuity, the value of hundreds of Section 8 vouchers that would be leveraged and the $249 million appraised value of the site. 

Jill Goodkind, a member of the coalition, testified at the Port Authority hearing, saying that her husband Tom, who died of 9/11-related cancer, fought for nearly two decades to make 5WTC affordable. She questioned why the agency refused to slow down despite the urgings of politicians and community advocates. 

“Is the unprecedented need to house people less important than subsidizing wealthy developers and high-end salaries and imported marble floors?” she said.