New York’s Newest Form of Segregation: ‘The Poor Door’


Remember that terrible, backwards plan trotted forth by real estate developer Extell to have a separate entrance in their new condo for the affordable housing tenants? No? A “poor door”—It sounds like the stuff of Dickens, not 2014 Upper West Side Manhattan. But the city just approved the development plans, effectively encouraging segregation between tenants of the same building.

Extell introduced the plan to include affordable housing units in its new, massive condo building at 40 Riverside Boulevard last year. It wasn’t something that they were doing from the goodness of their hearts: Under New York City’s inclusionary housing program, developers like Extell can build larger properties if they agree to provide low-income housing, either on or offsite. By putting 55 affordable housing units in the building in addition to their 219 luxury ones, Extell gets to build more floor area, which adds to the market rate condos.

That’s not an unusual scheme. But the way that Extell included the affordable units in their plan means that the 55 units are legally a separate entity, a “building segment” facing the street, all contained between floors 2 and 6. The separate entrance stipulation comes from this distinction: If the affordable housing “building segment” is operating independently than the market rate units, the company will likely employ a nonprofit to run that side of the building. Legally, that requires them to have their own superintendant and designated entrance.

But whether the separate entrance will be the sole way that the affordable housing unit tenants can walk into their own apartment building or not, the idea of having a doorway designated for lower-income residents has understandably sparked a lot of outrage. That is some Downton Abbey shit. It smacks of the bad old days of racial segregation, of tiny living quarters for the help. But unlike that old Jim Crowe “separate but equal” chestnut, Extell is not even pretending that the affordable units will be run the same way the pie-in-the-sky luxury condos will be. It essentially puts into architecture the unspoken class divisions of New York. There is a class for which Manhattan is a playground, and one, begrudgingly acknowledged, for which it is a struggle just to find a place you can afford to pay the rent.

Surely Extell is aware of how bad the optics look on this. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer certainly is. According to The Post, she has vowed to reject future developments with separate entrances. Let’s hope she does.

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  1. Not a new thing, you have just discovered what field workers have known for years! At one point they where called “Side Entrances”, “Service Entrance” or the worst one: “Back Entrance”! Maybe you should get away from your desk and step out into the streets of NYC, you might just discover there’s a world out there that’s not air conditioned, have elevators or doormen!