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Recently, advocates for the poor have been up and arms about so called “poor doors” in New York City:

A plan for a luxury skyscraper with a so-called “poor door” is changing to extend more of a welcome to residents of its cluster of affordable apartments, officials and the developers said Friday.

The retooled plan for 1 West End Ave. still involves separate entrances, but all residents will now have access to such building amenities as a courtyard and river-view roof deck, and the affordable segment’s lobby will be stylishly appointed and set facing a park.

The retooling follows an outcry over developments that got government incentives to include affordable housing but have separate amenities and even entrances for higher-paying residents. Developers say such arrangements can help make it financially feasible to build affordable housing at pricey addresses.

I consider the underlying policy here to be quite dubious. Developers of luxury skyscrapers are – in exchange for being able to build them – required to also build many heavily subsidized where the inhabitants are selected by lottery. There are some questions about whether the lottery itself is rigged, but let’s assume for a moment that it is not. Given that there is an unavoidable scarcity and that there is no possibility of the demand ever being met (in NYC, anyway), this mostly strikes me as a feel good solution that helps a few winners.

It’s understandable to me, then, that the developers would find some way to make the distinction between those who are actually paying for their apartment and others that won the lottery and are having subsidies in the tens of thousands of dollars. I have in the past expressed support for landlords being able to discriminate against rent controlled tenants.

And yet here, I actually side with the critics.

With the rent controlled tenants, the apartment owners had a strong case that if they couldn’t raise rents to pay for it, they had little motivation to add new amenities. So limiting access to the laundry room to those tenants who started leasing apartments at or after the time they were built, makes sense to me. There were other things they tried to do that I couldn’t support, but I was on board with some of it.

Here, though, it is in pretty direct circumvention of a policy that, while I don’t support, has a rationale that is built around putting wealthy and non-wealthy people together. It is very much geared towards making the lottery winners full inhabitants of the apartment building, and that was what the developers signed on to when they agreed to build under the contract signed.

With the rent control, a lack of reinvestment in properties where prices are stuck struck me as a reasonable threat. Here, I don’t see what the public policy threat is to allowing the lottery winners access to the same doors as everyone else. I understand what the apartment building gets out of it, and what the full-freight tenants get, but neither of those are of public policy concern, as far as I can see. The full-freighters aren’t going to refuse to rent affected apartments. The developers probably aren’t going to refuse to seek the permits. If this actually would be a dealbreaker for too many developers, then I’d reconsider. I’m just not seeing it.

To answer Lion’s question, “Why is someone paying $1000/month entitled to the same grand entrance as someone paying $10,000/month?” the answer is that it circumvents a part of the intent of the policy.

While I am not in favor of the underlying policy, if it’s going to be policy it should be pursued unless a good reason to change course is presented. “I don’t want to share a door with poor people” isn’t a good reason.

Addendum:
Looks like this may really be a non-issue. According to the Washington Post:

Take, for instance, Portner Place, a complex of garden-style Section 8 apartments near the popular intersection of U and 14th streets in Northwest Washington, D.C. The land is slated for redevelopment into a roughly 350-unit mixed-income property that will include two wings: one for market-rate professionals eager to live near the U Street scene, and the other for Portner Place’s existing residents, plus another 48 units of affordable housing meant for households making less than 60 percent of the area median income. The wings will have separate entrances, off separate streets.

Portner Place’s current tenants requested this.

If that’s what the residents on both sides of the divide want, I’m certainly disinclined to object.


Category: Newsroom

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One Response to Poor Doors

  1. With the rent control,

    FWIW, rent control is basically limited to people living in units from the 1970s onward. Some apartments have rent stabilized rents, so the rent does increase, although at lower levels when compared to non-regulated units. Mind you, most new units are not regulated, and nearly most apartments outside of the core areas are unregulated. The real problem as some would argue is that the zoning and permitting process serves as a cap on what one could build, and there isn’t much easy to build vacant land when compared to the 1960s when there was still some room left in the fringes of Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and most of Staten Island.

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