1 Welcome to NYC! Please Enter Through the Poor Door. | The Billfold

Welcome to NYC! Please Enter Through the Poor Door.

In our super-stratified society, we are used to a certain level of unfairness. If you pay more, you can board a flight first and sit in the increasingly luxurious first class section of the plane while everyone else squeezes into steerage. If you don’t have dollops of dollars, as Josh Michtom notes, there’s probably no hope for you as a consumer, period. But what if you, a middle-class tenant who pays her rent, find yourself living among the super-wealthy because they have invaded your building and then added amenities to which you are not allowed access? Or you’re allowed to live in a fancy-shmantzy new condo, but only if you enter through “the poor door” (!) and stay out of the gym?

In recent years, developers who have earned tax credits by promising to provide affordable housing have built luxury condos with separate entrances and lobbies for the affordable rental units. The so-called “poor door” makes it easier to restrict who gets access to amenities. Last summer, 40 Riverside Boulevard, a luxury condo rising on the Upper West Side, drew criticism for a design in which low-income tenants enter through a separate door and do not share amenities with owners. …

At the Windermere, tenants living in the nearly 140 rent-regulated apartments have been barred from using the new spa with a pool, yoga studio and gym. As part of a $10 million renovation, Stellar Management is also adding a sky lounge, a bar and planters to the roof. Rent-regulated tenants, who pay about $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom, had socialized on the roof for years, but will no longer be allowed to use it when construction is complete.

This brings out my inner banner-waving go-ahead-and-pepper-spray-me revolutionary.

If two sets of people live in the same building, of course they should share the roof/movie theater/bowling alley/party boat/make-your-own-martini bar. Why not? Are the children of rent-subsidized tenants going to leave State School germs on the Legos? If the super-wealthy want to live in gated communities, they can — in Connecticut or something. If they choose to live in a city, in a glass monstrosity erected in the first place because it set aside a certain number of “affordable housing” units or, worse, converted out of a regular, normal-type building filled with regular, normal-type people, then they can live mingling occasionally with the Jeffersons. Who are, after all, their neighbors.

Adding to my ire: not to be misandrist or anything, but I did notice that the commenters with no sympathy for the second-class-citizen tenants in this dispute tended to be dudes.

“Cry me a river!” –Bradley

“The ingratitude on the part of people who have been subsidized to live in Manhattan for decades is astounding.” –Nigel

“Living in “rent-control-heaven” in NYC is the amenity.” –Joel

I’m assuming these were the boys who refused to share their toy trucks in the playground. Do they have a point that I’m missing? What’s so wrong with letting the poorer folks come in through the same door as the rich?

photo via Sakeeb Sabakka


28 Comments / Post A Comment

samburger (#5,489)

“not to be misandrist”

BE ALL THE MISANDRIST YOU CAN BE dudes are the worst everyone knows it

wrappedupinbooks (#1,426)

i see why people are upset, but a not insignificant part of me would gladly walk through the poor door if it meant i got to pay rent controlled apartment rates

E$ (#1,636)

Ester! Never read the comments (uh except on this site of course).

fletchasketch (#6,453)

It’s nice to think that it is just a matter of giving everyone the key, but amenities cost money to maintain. The more amenities are used, the faster they wear out and need to be replaced, the more they need to be cleaned, the more management has to hear complaints about the jerks who don’t clean up after themselves and then enforce a bunch of rules about the amenities. If the tenants want to pay for this, let them, but I imagine most low-income residents will want want to pay an extra fee of several hundred dollars a month for amenities. Rich people do, hence why they are paying such high rent in the first place.

dotcommie (#662)

@fletchasketch Yes, but the developers are also getting government subsidies for the “poor” folks who live there. It’s not accurate to just compare poor people’s rent with the rich people’s rent, since the developers are getting money on top of the rent. I haven’t seen their pro formas, but I imagine developers who pursued the tax credits needed them to make the building a reality, so it seems like a small concession to let the subsidized renters use the amenities in exchange for the building existing in the first place. And not all luxury renters pay the same, either. Will the person renting a studio be allowed only weekly access to the gym while the person with a three-bedroom gets daily access? I think not. Even though the market rate renters likely contribute differential amounts to the upkeep of the amenities, they still get equal access to it.

dotcommie (#662)

@fletchasketch Also, the article specifically points out that some buildings prohibit the rent-controlled tenants from using the amenities, and don’t allow them to use them even if they pay a fee. If the issue were the marginal costs of more folks using the facilities, they could just tell them to pay a fee for the privilege. Since that’s off the table, it seems like they just don’t want poor folks around.

@dotcommie According to the article, the developers point out that because of rent regulations, if they offered the amenities to the rent-controlled tenants, they’d then have to get permission from a government agency to remove them and/or the tenants would be entitled to rent reductions.

fletchasketch (#6,453)

@dotcommie Right, but the tax credits are to offset the difference in rent between the poor and market rate units. The monthly total may not be broken down into “rent” and “amenity” charges on the bill you see, but big developers know how much it costs per amenity user, and they can estimate how many people will actually be living in a studio versus 3-bedroom apartment and factor it in. Some buildings actually will separate this out and each person listed on the lease pays an amenity fee, so they aren’t contributing a differential amount for equal access. It would be reasonable to tell the low-income renters “you can access the amenities if you pay the amenity fee”, where the amenity fee approximates (regular rent-(reduced rent+subsidy)). Have any of the low-income tenants asked for the privilege of paying a fee, or are they asking for free use?

dotcommie (#662)

@fletchasketch If the tax credits were just to offset the difference, why would the developers pursue them in the first place? Why not just build a building with all market-rate units? I know from developer friends that applying for and complying with tax credits is labor intensive and a real pain in the butt. There must be some benefit above and beyond the simple difference between market rate and subsidized rent.

@fletchasketch I don’t…. I don’t think you know how LIHTCs work.

This shit is straight up awful. Dotcommie is pretty much on the mark. Affordable housing needs more supporters, I really don’t know why you seem so interested in defending these people. But no, let’s kick people off the roof for deigning to want a place to live.

ETA: your original comment comes off as total NIMBYism and frankly veiled racism/classism with how low-income residents destroy things faster than the riches.

fletchasketch (#6,453)

@dotcommie I was under the impression that they were required to add low-income units to build in the first place. So the incentive to comply with the tax-credit rules is to not lose money on the units there were required to build.

fletchasketch (#6,453)

@Carmen Aiken@facebook That wasn’t my intention, I was merely commenting that more use by more people (of any class/race) destroys things faster. I agree we need more low-income housing, and we need it in in desirable areas. Which is why I think asking buildings to subsidize amenity maintenance makes building more low-income units less desirable for develops/ building managers.

dotcommie (#662)

@fletchasketch My reading of it is that they are required to offer affordable housing as a condition of the tax credit (which is how LIHTCs work), not because of some external reason, like a city ordinance requiring affordable housing set-asides. The article says they pursue tax credits because of the high cost of construction, in which case, I think my point still stands:

“The high cost of construction means developers often rely on public financing and tax breaks to build new luxury housing, either as rentals or as condos. In exchange, as many as 20 percent of the apartments must be set aside as affordable housing. Despite the financial benefit, developers worry that well-heeled buyers might be turned off by low-income neighbors.”

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

OK, not sound like Those Men… but I guess I fail to see the problem here? You pay less… so you get less. Below-market rent isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. (OK, you got me, I definitely sound like them.)

But please, someone aware me.

@DebtOrAlive I think the argument is that affordable housing is (or should be) a right, so when the market runs away from you because you have the misfortune to exist in an ever-more-stratified society and live in a place that becomes desirable to the lucky winners in that game of income stratification, you DO have a right to below-market rent. I think the problem (and I say this with respect) with your approach and @fletchasketch’s, too, is that you are taking a market-based view, as though markets were fair. In real life, markets are monstrously unjust, and the rich absolutely should subsidize amenities for the poor whenever and wherever possible. And if the market result of that is that it disincentivizes the kinds of behaviors that lead people to become super duper rich, I say BRING IT ON.

@DebtOrAlive You’re correct on that one. The U.S is a developed country who has no housing right for its citizens (which I obviously have some strong feelings about.)

I mean without getting too much into about the complexities of housing and real estate finance, these developers are using public monies to turn a profit and as a member of the public, I believe that rental prices in big cities are horrifying and driving people away, especially the people in this story who are often the target groups of people who NEED housing, the elderly and POC.

I guess it comes down to your philosophy. If you believe people should be allowed quality shelter without starving in their cities, then this might annoy you. It might not if you think the housing market can actually provide quality housing for EVERYONE. Things like this INFURIATES me.

fletchasketch (#6,453)

@Josh Michtom@facebook I can get behind affordable housing as a right, and agree that markets are unjust against poor people. I write strongly worded letters to my congressman about raising estate taxes, because yes super-duper-rich people should pay it forward to the country that let them get so rich in the first place. But since when is a furnished roof deck, a gym, a yoga studio, and a pool in your building “a right”, or even an expected part of housing? That is the part of the market approach I’m defending- to pay for the privilege of the extra stuff.

For background: I live in a nice building (not in NY), with a segregated small super-nice section. It has a separate door and a private little roof with fancy grills, a sweet view and patio furniture. If those things were important to me, I could have paid more money for an identical apartment on that side of the building, assuming I had extra money. But they aren’t important, I don’t have the money, so I don’t get those things, and I don’t feel like I’m being deprived of anything important to my survival or happiness.

@fletchasketch I dunno, man, I think if it’s in your building it is your right! Or at least sharing common spaces is the right thing to do. Especially if you had use of the roof before they took it away from you, made it glitzier, and then denied you access. You think Heaven is going to work like that? Uh uh.

@fletchasketch Sure you’re right, but two things: (1) What angry little raincloud says below – this circumstance fell on top of a lot of people, which makes a difference in terms of the fairness of it. (2) You ask why the poorer folks have any right to stuff they didn’t pay for. But I would ask, what’s the harm? The rich people aren’t losing anything, and if there’s added wear and tear that leads to higher maintenance costs, the rich folks can afford that too. Also, let’s face it – a lot of rich folks get stuff they don’t have any particular moral right to, it just so happens that we imbue the accident of high birth with legal and moral implications.

@Josh Michtom@facebook So…are you really saying people have a right to subsidized access to gyms, spas and concierges?

fletchasketch (#6,453)

@Ester Bloom I’m a woman. And it’s not my right, I’m not paying for it. I signed the lease knowing I wouldn’t have access. I just think there are so many more important things to fight about when it comes to affordable housing- namely, the location and that there is enough of it for everyone. In my state, if they wanted to convert the building to condos or change everything, you form a tenant’s association and you negotiate with about access to amenities. I can’t believe that this is what people are choosing to complain about. You aren’t going to stop developers from making money, so just pick your battles. Go to a park, or the YMCA, or the library for free amenities. Complaining about such trivial stuff is undermining bigger progressive goals by giving every Ayn Rand fanboy another catchy anecdote about “those welfare queens in the big city demanding free stuff from job creators now!” Also not part of a religion that believes in heaven, so sure, I can agree that heaven won’t work like that.

@forget it i quit Well, rich people get subsidized things all the time. So why not? Seriously, why not?

In one of my jobs, I work closely with the development office of a major cultural institution in New York. The very, very rich (or, children of the very rich) get things for free that the institution charges normal visitors several hundred dollars for. Last week, in fact, Very Rich People, rather than supporting the charitable mission and paying, got a rather nice and costly perk comped. Sure, maybe they’ll give money in the end, but right now, it reads to me as Rich People Behaving Stingily (stingy-ily? stingy-ly?)

And besides, back to the actual point, if we’re talking a roof deck, or a gym, or even a yoga studio, it’s already there. Yes, more users mean higher maintenance costs, maybe, but how much can that be? Who is the one really being petty?

@fletchasketch I too am a woman! One who doesn’t believe in Heaven, but I still believe we should act as though we will be judged for our decisions in the world to come — not “just in case” but because it’s a way to keep other people, and larger repercussions, in mind.

dotcommie (#662)

@DebtOrAlive My argument isn’t that affordable housing should be a right. Maybe it should, maybe it shouldn’t, whatever–we don’t need to answer that question in this debate. My argument (as stated above) is that these buildings would not EXIST in the first place if not for the public financing and tax credits. So it seems like a small concession to let the subsidized renters use the damn facilities, since these yoga studios and gyms would not be there if it weren’t for the subsidized renters. See this quote:

“The high cost of construction means developers often rely on public financing and tax breaks to build new luxury housing, either as rentals or as condos. In exchange, as many as 20 percent of the apartments must be set aside as affordable housing. Despite the financial benefit, developers worry that well-heeled buyers might be turned off by low-income neighbors.”

Lily Rowan (#70)

Let’s keep in mind what we are talking about here: I just went to the NYC website and affordable housing in midtown means $1600 for a studio, and you qualify with income up to $78K. http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/downloads/pdf/Clinton-section-manhattam.pdf Of course there are much cheaper places in other neighborhoods, but I bet a building with luxury amenities is on the high side of affordable.

Nibbler (#5,331)

@Lily Rowan Thanks for pointing that out, I think it’s one thing a lot of non-New Yorkers get wrong about the affordable housing debate in New York. A lot of the time it’s not actually “Rich” vs. “Poor,” it’s just somewhat more affluent vs. somewhat less affluent. Housing is very expensive here, and some people who are not Rich still spend an extraordinary amount on it, and some people who are not Poor still need help paying for it. There isn’t a monolithic class divide between people in affordable housing and people who have access to roof decks.

One thing to keep in mind: some of these tenants did not move into luxury buildings with crazy amenities, so it’s not like middle income renters are demanding yoga studios and pools. It’s been added to the buildings later. I’d be kind of pissed, too, if I had lived in a building for years and suddenly lost access to my roof. (I’m cranky that the laundromat down the street closed. It was fine my building didn’t have laundry because there was a self-serve place a block away. My landlord has nothing to do with it, and yet it’s a serious ding against my building now. I have too many things I air dry to hand it all over to the wash & fold places.)

And you can’t just say they should move: if they are rent-controlled, they certainly can’t afford to move to an equivalent apartment at current rates and it’s generally cheaper for market rate tenants to stay put as well.

Plus, can we also talk about the lack of proper, middle-of-the-road developments? Isn’t that a major issue: the lack of middle income housing? (Yes, of course the city needs more low-income housing, but there’s a big gulf between low-income and luxury. Lily Rowan, above, notes that even someone making $78k qualifies for some affordable housing. This city is crazy.) I don’t need a freaking yoga studio, or doorman, or stainless steel appliances. And yet. Even in Harlem and northern Manhattan, even the shittiest, tiniest studios all had so-called “luxury” kitchens (in reality: they were cheap as can be, but shiny. And why were the kitchens so gargantuan in tiny studios? ) I don’t want to pay for that kind of stuff, but that’s most of what I saw. Or all those apartments that hadn’t been renovated since 1963 and still had the original appliances.

Eric18 (#4,486)

“What’s so wrong with letting the poorer folks come in through the same door as the rich?”

Nothing. But I do understand people not having much sympathy for whiny people who have the good fortune to live in a rent controlled apartment in NYC. If you look more closely at the comments, that’s what alot of people were commenting on.

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