Should so-called 'Poor Doors' have been banned in New York City?

poor door
Video screen capture Youtube complaining about poor door

For the last two years, New Yorkers and others have been outraged about “Poor Doors”, ever since a developer of a West Side condo building got a big density bonus and significant tax breaks for building affordable housing, and then put in a separate entrance for the affordable units around the corner. Citizens raged in the Post: “You know that show ‘Downton Abbey’? Where the servants have to come and go through separate entrances and bow their heads when they see a noble? Well, there could soon be a version right here on the Upper West Side!”

Now those poor doors have been banned. The Guardian quotes city councillor Helen Rosenthal:

I think that the state legislature and the city are now doing the right thing in terms of treating people in every socioeconomic group with the same level of respect and dignity… Fundamentally, no taxpayer dollar should go to program that further segregates our communities. Certainly not by socioeconomic status.

Really? For years, across America, taxpayer dollars have gone to segregate communities by socioeconomic status. They went for highways to get rich people out to the suburbs. They went for mortgage interest deductions that favor those who can afford downpayments and houses. When any government money was put into social housing, it was in segregated neighbourhoods far away from the rich. Here, it is going to put social housing where it should be- in a nice part of town, in a nice new building. It just happens to have another building on top of it.

The fact of the matter is, the so-called poor door is a very good thing. The rich have money for amenities like round the clock concierges and party rooms and gymnasia, and are willing to pay the high operating costs to support them.

Then there is the much larger market, the middle class and the subsidized resident who want a clean, well managed and safe building and don’t want to or cannot pay for the frills. It’s a different kind of building, a different kind of property management and a very different operating cost. As a former architect and real estate developer who has built both, I can attest that they are very different things right from most basic design aspects, be it ceiling height or corridor width.

The so called poor door actually reduces segregation by economic status; they are all in the same building, sharing the same streets. The developer benefits by getting a density bonus and more money for his units because everyone wants higher floors; the people in the lower floors actually get housing in a nice part of the west side instead of being stuck out in some project somewhere else.

We need a mix of all kinds of people in our cities; a horizontal separation of uses and building types makes just as much sense from a social justice point of view as a vertical separation into separate buildings, which would have offended nobody. It's been done for years in the rental market, using separate elevators and lobbies for different market segments. Killing the so-called poor door just might have killed a whole lot of affordable housing, all because somebody came up with a really catchy derogatory name for what was basically a good idea that's happening all over the world.

I don't think a lot of people agree with me. So here's a poll:


Tags: Urban Life | Urban Planning

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