Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
Send them through the back door!
Extell Development Company built a perfect metaphor for New York City's gaping inequality into the blueprints for a 33-story luxury condo that's slated to rise on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The 274-unit waterfront tower will contain 55 affordable housing units, a concession that earned the developer rights to build more square footage than the neighborhood's zoning would normally allow.
Those 55 below-market apartments will face the back of the building, not the riverfront. And now it turns out, via the blog West Side Rag, that the people who live there (of modest income, making less than 60 percent of the area median) will have their own separate rear entrance to the building, too.
The site plan, shown at right via the West Side Rag, takes the instinct to keep the lower-income at bay to an impressive extreme. Of course, it's easy to segregate affordable housing – and the people who live in it – into its own part of town, its own neighborhoods, even its own isolated blocks. But it takes some serious creativity to keep the haves and have-nots apart in the very same building.
As the map identifies, the less luxurious of the tower's residents can utilize the "affordable entrance" around the left side of the building.
To be charitable, it doesn't sound like the developers were intentionally scheming to keep these residents out of eyesight of the bankers moving in for the full-sized basketball court and swimming pool. But the actual story, according to the Village Voice, isn't a whole lot better:
The building's affordable units would occupy floors two through six, attached to the building but legally as a separate entity. That separate entity allows Extell to cash in millions in affordances for technically having an entire building devoted to affordable housing. To add insult to injury, zoning law requires that a separate building have a separate entrance.
As the local community board is now complaining to the city, this spatial arrangement raises some awkward questions about how those affordable units will be managed – and, if they're managed poorly, whether anyone in the rest of the tower would be motivated to care.
Then there's also the little fact that this plan defeats the whole idea behind mixed-income housing. Which is, you know, to stop stigmatizing the people who live in the less prosperous units as deserving of the city's back door.