New York's Poor Doors

This past summer New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development approved plans for a new high-rise luxury condo building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (40 Riverside Blvd.). The 33-story building will have 219 units, including 55 affordable housing units. The development has caused controversy because the building will include a separate entrance and separate elevators for affordable housing residents. The separate entrance has become know as the “poor door.” 

New York City is well known for its large population and density. In New York, as in many major cities, there is a shortage of housing. There is a particular shortage of housing for low to middle income residents. Providing affordable housing has moved away from public housing and has become more reliant on the private sector to build housing for low to middle income residents. Private developers are offered incentives to include affordable units in new developments by tax breaks and zoning variances granting rights to build more units.  

The separate entrances are accredited to recent zoning changes that allow developers to build multiple building segments on a single site, thus not requiring affordable and low-income units to be integrated within market rate units and allowing affordable and low income units to be completely segregated.

According to the developer, the affordable unit residents will pay $850 a month for one-bedroom apartments and $1,100 a month for two bedroom apartments (for perspective, $1 million in New York City can purchase about 430 square feet). To qualify for the affordable units, a resident would need to earn less than 60% of the area’s median income. For a family of four, that is about $52,000 a year (which is twice the federal poverty level and above the U.S. median household income).

The separate entrances highlight an underlying social issue. There is a real need for affordable housing for low and middle income individuals. The construction of more affordable housing and providing access to affordable housing is undoubtedly positive. However, where the alternative seems to be no housing at all, a challenge to an individual's meaning of worth seems to be a questionable price to pay.