The Poor Can’t Even Afford An Apartment In The ‘Poor Door’ Building

The New York City luxury condominium building that became infamous for its separate ‘poor door’ for low-income residents has attracted more than 88,000 applications for its 55 low-income units. The poor door caused blowback for separating low-income residents from the millionaire condo owners and barring them from facilities like the pool and gym. But the high level of demand shows the incredible need for affordable housing.

Beyond the poor door building, impossible odds haven’t stopped a huge number of people from applying to live in a tiny number of affordable homes in New York. For about 700 affordable units, New York City has held 10 lotteries so far in 2015 and received about 486,000 applications. That’s around 5 percent of the city’s population, and nearly the population of Wyoming (584,153 people).

And while the building is certainly affordable for its neighborhood, ‘poor door’ is a misnomer. The federal poverty line for a family of four is $24,250, but the building won’t accept tenants with an income under $30,240, so no poor people would actually be able to live in the apartment. A full-time minimum wage worker in New York makes $18,200 each year, putting even a studio apartment in the building totally out of reach.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s (D) affordable housing plan relies on a practice called inclusionary zoning, where developers are often allowed to build with more density than would otherwise be allowed if they include affordable units. That means new affordable development in a neighborhood will also come with the creation of luxury housing, which can result in gentrification and push out lower-income residents. Some residents of neighborhoods that are attractive to developers are seeing what comes with development in other parts of the city, and saying they aren’t interested.


De Blasio’s plan would add 80,000 affordable units in 10 years, which would almost cover the applicants for the ‘poor door’ building. But much of the city’s demand would go unmet.

The affordable housing crisis isn’t confined to New York. As of 2009, the U.S. had 5.5 million fewer affordable housing units compared to the number of people who need them. Experts consider housing unaffordable if residents spend more than a third of their income on rent. Half the renters in the U.S. cross that line.

Some places deal with affordable housing differently, like in California, which has a huge shortfall as well, about a million units across the state. A plan from Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D) would add a small fee to some real estate document filings that would go to the long-dormant California Housing Trust Fund, which would finance affordable developments. That could offer some independence to construct affordable developments unconnected to luxury condos.