#TeachTrump

Denied access to Trump Tower public space, protestors still hold affordable housing teach-in

Development East Urbanism
Denied access to Trump Tower public terrace, protestors still hold affordable housing teach-in. (Zachary Edelson/AN)
Denied access to Trump Tower public terrace, protestors still hold affordable housing teach-in. (Zachary Edelson/AN)

This morning, some fifty people gathered outside Trump Tower’s fifth-floor public terrace to protest proposals from New York Governor Cuomo and President Trump that would affect affordable and public housing in New York. The event was organized by Alliance for Tenant Power and Real Rent Reform, two grassroots coalition groups that draw support from a range of New York City tenant organizations, labor unions, not-for-profits, and advocacy groups.

The teach-in started at 11:30 a.m. as protestors arrived just outside the terrace entrance, located on the top floor of the Tower’s large central atrium. Prior to the election, Trump Tower’s two tucked-away public terraces seemed to exemplify the slight-of-hand developers can use to leverage extra development rights without meaningfully giving back to the public. Recently, they’ve become a venue for protestors to gather at the heart of President Trump’s most prominent development.



This time, however, the fifth-floor terrace was closed due to reported icy conditions. To this reporter’s eyes, it was a plainly flimsy excuse. (The four-floor terrace is still closed due to construction, according to a sign outside its entrance.)

Civil rights attorney Samuel B. Cohen was on hand to speak to Trump Tower staff and inquire about the space’s closure. Just like a sidewalk or any other public space, he told the crowd, Trump Tower has an obligation to clear the space for public use. Regardless, the teach-in continued, as the NYPD did not express safety concerns about the crowd.

Over the course of approximately 45 minutes, protestors spoke out against Governor Cuomo’s proposed renewal of the 421-a tax break, which is designed to spur the development of multi-unit buildings on vacant land. Tom Waters, housing policy analyst from the Community Service Society, said 421-a was a product of the 1970s, an era when the city was in dire straits. “Those times are over,” he said, adding that 421-a would create far more value for developers than for the public. Waters also spoke out against a new provision in the bill that extends 100 percent tax-exempt status for certain new affordable developments from 25 to 35 years, a move which could generate further profits for developers. 

Waters also explained that Trump Tower itself was a product of 421-a tax exemptions when it was built; according to The New York Times the project received “an extraordinary 40-year tax break that has cost New York City $360 million to date in forgiven, or uncollected, taxes, with four years still to run, on a property that cost only $120 million to build in 1980.” After being initially denied 421-a exemptions for Trump Tower, Trump successfully sued the city, and he later won 421-a exemptions for his Trump World Tower under the Guiliani and Bloomberg administrations in a similar fashion.

Massive cuts to federal housing programs were an equal source of ire: According to a press release issued by Alliance for Tenant Power and Real Rent Reform, President Trump’s proposed budget reduces federal housing funds by 13 percent. Those cuts “are expected to strain public housing programs and axe $75 million in federal funding from the New York City Housing Authority, the agency that manages public housing in NYC,” the groups said. The Community Service Society estimates that Governor Cuomo’s proposed 421-a program would “cost NYC taxpayers $2.4 billion annually and yield minimal affordable housing units in return.”

In the face of federal cuts, Jawanza Williams of VOCAL NY urged New York State to take a more aggressive stance to fill in the gaps and create its own robust health care and public housing systems; he also argued that 421-a would “only exacerbate gentrification.” Claudia Perez of advocacy group Community Voices Heard added her thoughts in a question to those assembled: “Will you help me fight against the developer-in-chief? Now more than ever, New York must protect NYCHA.”

“We’re calling on Cuomo to realize these $2 billion in cuts are more Trumponian than Trump,” said New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams at the protest. “So if [Cuomo] wants to run for president, if he wants to be a champion of saying what New York City is going to do to push back against these Trumponian cuts, 421-a is not it.”

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