Poor People Enter Around Back
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.
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.