SCOTT JAGOW: Monday is September 11th. It’s been five years. The area near Ground Zero has slowly been coming back to life. New York City moved things along by issuing $8 billion in Liberty Bonds. These were tax-free loans from Congress with very low interest rates. They given to developers as an incentive to build. But critics say small business and affordable housing got left out. Bettina Damiani is with the group, Good Jobs New York.
BETTINA DAMIANI: The process of Liberty Bonds seemingly looked like it was a very political process. The most powerful, the most well-connected developers in this city are the ones that got access to Liberty Bonds. Our concern is that the way federal resources were allocated after 9/11 didn’t take into consideration the needs of small- and medium-size businesses.
Chinatown, for example. The garment industry in Chinatown was devastated after 9/11. Yet, no companies in Chinatown have had access to Liberty Bonds. This could have been an opportunity to strengthen and firm up an industry that creates jobs for low- and middle-income folks.
JAGOW: Well, some people would argue that you need these kind of big companies to get things going, to get the development underway.
DAMIANI: No one’s arguing that. Certainly, the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan and New York City’s economy relies on large corporations conducting their business here. The question is, after 9/11, what firms and what companies had better access to capital and resources to help them rebuild.
Did Goldman Sachs ever really threaten to leave Lower Manhattan? Was that taken into consideration? These are companies that have strong ties to New York and never really threatened to leave New York.
JAGOW: Well, what’s the problem here and the issue of affordable housing in that area? Were there people wanting to build affordable housing who wanted these Liberty Bonds and couldn’t get them?
DAMIANI: I think the issue here was that these bonds were not directed towards the type of companies or organizations that build affordable housing. This really was about getting stuff built shortly after 9/11 and I think few people would argue that that would have been an important aspect of this program. But, what wasn’t happening was looking at the long-term view of how building this type of housing is going to impact not only Lower Manhattan but the needs of the average worker in New York City. The type of people that we saw on television after 9/11. We saw firefighters and cops and teachers and emergency personnel. You can’t expect cops and teachers and firefighters to live in a $1,600, $1,700 a month studio. It’s unrealistic and really, frankly, it’s unfair.
JAGOW: Were those people living in that area before 9/11?
DAMIANI: In areas of the Lower Eastside was a bit more diverse, certainly. The area around TriBeca, as you probably know, has become very hip. But that doesn’t mean that we should rebuild Lower Manhattan without those people in mind. Especially if we’re going to be using federal resources.
JAGOW: Bettina Damiani is with Good Jobs New York.
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