You know that show Downton Abbey? Where the servants have to come and go through separate entrances and bow their heads when they see a noble? Well, there could soon be a version of Downton Abbey right here, on the Upper West Side!
A 33-story building slated to be built on Riverside Boulevard between 61st and 62nd street will have an entirely separate entrance for people of lower socioeconomic means: a door for the poor, or as we call it, a “Poor Door.” The affordable homes will be oriented towards the back of the building, while market-rate units will have a view of the Hudson.
“This ‘separate but equal’ arrangement is abominable and has no place in the 21st century, let alone on the Upper West Side,” Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal told us. “A mandatory affordable housing plan is not license to segregate lower-income tenants from those who are well-off. The developer must follow the spirit as well the letter of the law when building affordable housing, and this plan is clearly not what was intended by the community.”
Of course, New York real estate is filled with “poor doors” and “rich doors.” Buildings that are just across the street from each other often house people with vastly different incomes. But developments like this stand out because the developer will earn credits by building it that are likely worth tens of millions of dollars. By building affordable housing, a developer gets to add more floor area to a development beyond what the zoning code would normally allow. In the 10069 area code, homes have been selling for $1,359 per square foot, and in nearby 10023, they’re selling for just under $2,000 a square foot. Under those market conditions, an additional 50,000 square feet added to a development, for instance, could bring in a cool $100 million.
The building in question, known as 40 Riverside Boulevard, is owned by Extell Development Company and various entities of private equity giant The Carlyle Group. The proposed building is pictured at left in a rendering from Goldstein Hill & West Architects, who revealed to Crain’s two years ago that it would include luxury amenities like full-size basketball courts and swimming pools. It’s part of the set of luxury towers stretching from 59th to 72nd streets along the Hudson River, much of which was formerly owned by Donald Trump.
The building at 40 Riverside Boulevard is slated to have 274 units — 219 of them for sale as condos, and 55 for rent to people making 60% or less of area median income (60% of area median income is $51,540 for a family of four, according to NYC HDC; affordable 2-bedrooms will rent for $1,099 a month). The people living in those apartments will be chosen by lottery. The developer says that by building the affordable units it will earn credits allowing it to sell rights to other nearby developers that will let them add more floor area.
The city calls this inclusionary zoning. Of course, the irony is that the poor are excluded from renting apartments in the market-rate side of the building. The “affordable” part of the building is completely separate from the luxury section, with its own entrance and elevator.
The last page of the plan we posted below says: “The affordable units will be on floors two through six in a ‘building segment’ which contains only the affordable units and has its own entrance as required by the Zoning Resolution.”
Many developments in the city do intersperse affordable apartments with market-rate ones. But the rules governing this particular development are apparently different, as an HPD spokesman told us:
“Sections 23-90 and 12-10 respectively of the Zoning Resolution permits the development to be designed as currently proposed. The tenants of the affordable apartments will have access to amenities in their building such as a community room/lounge on the ground floor. The project is still undergoing design review; however, so details on all amenities are not available. The project will comply with all applicable laws and codes prior to acceptance of Extell’s affordable housing plan.”
Essentially the developers say they have to build a separate entrance because the affordable housing section of 40 Riverside is not directly related to the building it is attached to from a legal standpoint. As Community Board Chair Mark Diller wrote to us: “Even though the off-site housing portion of this building is attached physically to the rest of the building, the developer’s argument is that it is separate ‘off-site’ since it does not relate to the rest of the building, and therefore falls under the portion of the Zoning Resolution that requires a separate entrance.”
An Extell spokesman did not respond to questions about the development.
Community Board 7 wrote a letter to the city Department of Planning and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (pasted below, underneath the Extell plan) that asks the city to include “appropriate safeguards to avoid a situation in which the Affordable Housing tenants are relegated to the status of second class citizens.”
It’s reminiscent of the city’s plan to build market rate apartments in housing project developments with entrances facing away from the projects.
Anyway, what better symbol to hold onto in the waning days of the Bloomberg administration. This way to the Poor Door!
Top photo by beatlequeen. Photo illustration by West Side Rag.
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