“Poor Door” Popularity Shows Dignity Is Secondary to Affordable Rent

April 21, 2015 | Liam Mathews

The New York Times reports that 88,000 applications have been submitted by hopeful city residents trying to snag one of the 55 affordable housing units in the so-called “poor door” building on the Upper West Side.

The “poor door,” the term given to the designated entrance for lower-income renters that’s located on a different street than the entrance for luxury buyers, was controversial among Democratic officials and housing rights advocates for its exclusionary nature. For example, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn called it “discriminatory” during her 2013 mayoral run.

But the volume of applications shows that New Yorkers will tolerate indignity if it means they get to live in an affordable apartment in a nice neighborhood. And any renter will tell you, this is nothing new. New Yorkers put up with shady Craigslist brokers, negligent landlords, and paying well over half their income to live in unpleasant apartments. The New York City real estate game has beaten people down so thoroughly that 88,000 of them are willing to not only swallow their pride but be happy to enter through a poor door. And they should be! Dignity doesn’t pay the exorbitant rent.

Unfortunately, this means the developers are right when they say stuff like, “I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood,” as the villainously named VP of Toll Brothers David Von Spreckelsen once said. It allows the rich to continue to live in their bubble of privilege where they get to feel like they’re doing a favor to the poor by deigning to let them live in a building. The problem is not the existence of the poor door, it’s that affordable housing can only exist as a tax write-off for developers building luxury condos.

The truly undignified people in the poor door saga are the people who buy in a building that consciously discriminates. You have to be a despicable rich person to be okay with living in a place that treats median income earners as second-class citizens.

(Image: Silverstein/Elad Group)