Luxury Building Lets Poor Residents Share A Roof Deck With Rich Neighbors, But Not A Door

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A new luxury building in New York City will come with a so-called “poor door,” or a separate entrance for the residents of the affordable housing unit included to give the developer tax breaks. But after public outcry about poor doors, city lawmakers worked to make some concessions they say will soften the blow of the segregation.

The building, 10 Freedom Place, will be a 42-story apartment tower on the Upper West Side, with plans for 250 market-rate condos and 166 affordable rentals. The seven-story affordable section is separate and therefore is being built under zoning rules changes from 2009 that allowed developers to build multiple segments, each needing their own entrances. The developer says that if everyone had the same entrance, the market-rate tenants would have to walk 200 feet to the elevator bank.

To ease the fact that the low-income residents will be made to enter a different door than the highly wealthy ones, lawmakers pushed the development company to let them share a courtyard and a roof deck facing the Hudson River. The developer says it also decided independently to have the affordable units face a planned park and have a glass facade with custom-wood entrance.

The shared spaces could help ease one of the complaints low-income residents frequently raise: that they are not just made to use a different entrance, but barred from using the building’s services. Several luxury buildings ban them from using gyms, pools, and rooftops — even if they offer to pay for membership — and that practice is on the rise. “We can’t even use the pool or the gym,” a renter in a luxury building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn told the New York Times. “I’ve asked and offered to pay. It’s kind of messed up.”

But the separate entrance itself may still raise hackles. When another luxury condo building on the Upper West Side got clearance for a poor door, it set off a wave of controversy and pushed lawmakers to promise action. Mayor Bill deBlasio has said he will change the zoning code so that it will no longer be legal to create separate entrances. A state assemblywoman introduced legislation requiring buildings to let affordable housing tenants use all of the amenities. And two city council members are working on legislation that would cover rent-regulated tenants under the city’s anti-discrimination protections.

Even those lawmakers who worked with the developer to grant low-income renters access to the roof deck were still not pleased with the situation. “I don’t think a poor door will ever be palatable. Full stop,” councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who was involved in the negotiations, told the Wall Street Journal. In a press release she said, “Exploiting the poor door loophole is not in the spirit of the extensive community negotiations around this development, and it is abhorrent.”

The city clearly needs more affordable housing: between 2000 and 2012, it lost about 400,000 apartments that rented for $1,000 or less, despite an influx of 336,000 people, helping to drive up rents generally. The median Manhattan apartment rents for more than $3,000 a month, the second-highest level in more than five years. Median rent in the city is nearly 40 percent of median income, much higher than what’s generally considered to be affordable.

This also means, however, that the affordable units built by luxury developers will certainly be full, with more and more people lucky to have affordable housing but possibly subject to the indignities of being made to use a separate door or stay out of a building’s gym facility. These problems don’t fall evenly along racial lines: white people make up 73 percent of the people in Manhattan who rent at market rates and about 77 percent of those who own, while they are less than half of rent-regulated tenants.