New York City Bans ‘Poor Doors’

CREDIT: RICHARD DREW, AP
CREDIT: RICHARD DREW, AP

Tucked into a deal to extend tax credits for New York City housing builders and strengthen the city’s rent stabilization laws last week was a provision that ended the ability to create separate doors for affordable and market-rate tenants in the same complex.

Luxury apartment builders can get tax credits for more square footage if they also pledge to build affordable units. But because of a loophole that allowed the affordable units to be built either on or off site, some buildings had created separate segments of the buildings for them with different doors and elevators, claiming that because the segment was legally separate, it had to have its own entrance. At least two new buildings had created so-called “poor door” entrances for low-income tenants.

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“Buildings that segregate entrances for lower-income and middle-class tenants are an affront to our values,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer.

The new ban won’t impact existing buildings, but any new luxury construction won’t be able to build separate affordable housing to take advantage of the tax program, known as 421a. “Changes Mayor de Blasio just secured to the 421a program in Albany will mean that in the future, so-called ‘poor doors’ will be banned, more affordable housing will be built on-site and buildings will more fully integrate tenants,” Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen said in a statement.

It will also address the issue of unequal access to amenities that had cropped up in many of these same buildings. Many didn’t allow low-income tenants to use things like communal gyms, pools, and rooftops even if they paid for membership. But a spokesperson in New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s (D) office told ThinkProgress that the new deal on the 421a program will no longer allow large luxury condo buildings to take part and include affordable rental units. Because condo owners pay maintenance fees that can go to shared amenities that renters don’t, buildings said they simply couldn’t offer low-income renters access; that problem will no longer occur given that condos and low-income rentals won’t be mixed. The city will also require any builder who gets financing from its development corporation to ensure equal access to amenities.

The ban doesn’t get to a larger issue, which is whether the housing is actually affordable and whether there is enough of it to go around. At the building on the Upper West Side that originally sparked an outcry about its poor door, tenants have to make at least $30,240 to get an apartment, despite the poverty line for a family of four standing at $24,250. Meanwhile, rent for a two-bedroom goes for $1,082 and a studio goes for $833, putting them far out of reach for people making low wages.

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Median rent in the city is nearly 40 percent of median income and rents keep rising. They were up 1.7 percent last quarter over the previous one, the second-largest increase of any city. At the same time, the city has been losing affordable housing, with about 400,000 apartments that rented for $1,000 or less disappearing between 2000 and 2012 despite an influx of 336,000 people.