Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.
A new provision will prohibit separate entrances in apartment buildings with units for low-income and market-rate tenants.
CityLab reported in April on Extell Development Company’s 33-story Manhattan condo building, which features a grandiose Hudson River-facing entrance for its luxury units (starting price, $7 million). The building also includes a separate entrance at the rear for the 55 or so subsidized units for low-income residents, often referred to as the “poor door.”
Emily Badger reported for The Washington Post that Extell said a separate entrance was necessary because the subsidized units are in “a legally separate building.” They’ll get away with that for now. But moving forward, New York will have no more “poor doors”: A state law was passed last week forbidding any developer using tax incentives for affordable housing from incorporating segregated entrances into their plans.
The new prohibition comes courtesy of New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio, who snuck a line in into a rent-regulation bill that the state passed, which survived to get signed into law by Governor Cuomo. Developers also may not separate low-income units from market-rate tenants within a building under the new law.
Still, New York developers have already been working on other ways to keep market-rate and low-wage tenants separate in the city’s perplexing efforts to expand affordable housing. *In Brooklyn, developers of the Greenpoint Landing project are preserving three of its planned 10 buildings for units subsidized for low-income tenants. Those three buildings will contain 300 affordable units. When all of the buildings are complete, some wealthier residents will not have to share vestibules with poorer neighbors, though they will live within the same complex. (A spokesman for the project says that of the total 5,500 units that will be available when the complex is completed, 1,400 of those will be affordable housing, spread across towers yet to be built.)
“The poor door is no more, and there should be no facsimile of an effort to replace it,” said Brooklyn Borough president Eric Adams in a New York Post article objecting to Greenpoint Landing’s efforts. A major point of subsidizing low-income housing, after all, is integration, as noted in the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on fair housing.
Problem is, economic status is not a constitutionally protected class, not even under the Fair Housing Act. The Civil Rights Act’s Title VI is of little help here either, since it prohibits discrimination only for federally funded activities and programs on the basis of race, color, and national origin. Still, the DeBlasio administration is seeking to solve New York’s housing affordability problem with inclusionary zoning policies, in part, through economic diversification its housing stock.
DeBlasio’s housing agenda has urged city developers to build mixed-income apartment buildings in areas where federal public housing projects currently exist, as reported in The New York Times. But how exactly wealthier residents will mix with public housing residents remains to be seen. In some cases, lower-wage residents simply may not desire such mixing, as seen in Washington, D.C., where residents of a former public housing site elected to separate themselves from market-rate tenants within the new Portner Place housing complex.
It is true that it is typically whiter, wealthy homeowners who push to segregate themselves from the rest of society, as Dan Denvir recently wrote for Citylab. They’ve done this through a history of pushing for discriminatory housing policies that mayors like DeBlasio and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser are now seeking to rectify. That history is accessed through different entry points, based largely on race. The question for the cities is whether it’s advisable to allow for building designs that reflect and reinforce that history, or deconstruct it.
*This story has been updated to add information about additional affordable-housing units Greenpoint Landing says will be spread throughout future buildings in its project complex.