HOW WEST SIDE RAG’S ‘POOR DOOR’ STORY WENT NATIONAL, THEN INTERNATIONAL

Well, whaddya know.

A week ago, West Side Rag broke a story about Extell’s new building at 40 Riverside Boulevard, whose affordable apartments could be in a separate segment from its luxury ones. We ran it along with a somewhat silly photo illustration, which we dubbed a “Poor Door.” The story got a little buzz from local real estate sites, and it drew some heated comments. That wasn’t unexpected.

But this was unexpected: today, people from Russia to London opened their newspapers and turned on their televisions only to hear about the hot new controversy in New York: as MSNBC called it, “Rich Door, Poor Door.”

After getting picked up by the New York Post on Sunday, stories about the development ran in The Daily Mail and Sky News in London, ABC News, CBS, Fox 5, The Atlantic, Gawker (with more than 250 comments!), the Village Voice, Huffington Post and Newsmax. A blogger at Brooklyn Magazine noted that they’ve had “poor doors” in Brooklyn for years (Brooklyn always has to set the cool trends).  Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal told us she was even interviewed about the issue on Russian TV. A reader traveling in Israel said she saw a report on it there on Fox News. The story even got mentioned on the famous conservative site Drudge Report, although the headline linked to the Post and not the Rag (smaller sites like ours often don’t get credit for the stories we break, which is a sad fact of life on the Internet and, it’s why we cry softly into our pillows each night).

The comments on many of these articles can be fascinating; they’re very different based on the political makeup of the publication’s readership. Extell, which didn’t respond to our requests for comment, eventually sent a statement to 1010 WINS about the project: “Many factors go into the design of a building including efficiency, cost and financibility, especially when the units are permanently affordable, which is the case here. The goal we will deliver on is filling a neighborhood need by adding high quality affordable residences in a beautiful neighborhood – residences we are confident will attract no shortage of applicants.”

The notion of a building creating separate entrances for people who can afford luxury apartments and people who can’t touched a nerve. New York has become one of the most segregated cities in the country by race and class. The article set off some debates about the obligations of developers in this situation: some commentators were upset about the development — “the idea behind integrating luxury and affordable housing is INTEGRATING,” one Gawker commenter wrote.

Others said we were way off base in suggesting that the lower-income tenants were somehow being segregated. A Business Insider writer wrote a piece called “In Defense of the Poor Door” arguing that city should get cash for tax abatements instead of asking for housing. A commenter on our site wrote: “the reality is that 50 folks are getting brand new apartments subsidized by others.” Another wrote “these renters should be grateful!”

Indeed. The people who get to live in the affordable apartments are definitely lucky (anytime people win a lottery, they should consider themselves lucky, unless they’re in that disturbing story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson).

But the question here is whether the community is getting the benefit it ought to receive for the tax breaks and extra floor area given to the developer. Tax abatements for developers sapped the city of about $2.9 billion in 2012, about 20% of city property tax collections, says Business Insider. Those tax breaks and the ability to build extra apartments beyond what zoning rules normally allow are worth tens of millions of dollars. What should taxpayers expect in return for them?

We’ve posted some of the news videos below:

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NEWS | 17 comments | permalink
    1. BJAM says:

      Who cares. Those relegated to the “other door” have zero to complain about. They get reap the rewards of those who worked hard to live in a secure great little neighborhood on the water for pennies on the dollar. My building is next door and an 80/20, the 20 regularly give me reasons to lock my door. The hardworking 80 never once in 5 years.

    2. WombatNYC says:

      BJAM- Could not agree more – Lets them use a side entrance . If I could get one of these apartments I would use the Fire Escape if I needed to–

    3. The comments by people in the news clips seem to think that there is some sort of discrimination occurring in this development. The developer is offering lower priced rental accommodations in another building on the same property. The buildings just happen to be conjoined like many other buildings in NYC that have separate entrances. It is not unusual to have expensive buildings next to low rent buildings. If a tenant in the low rent building wanted to buy a unit in the luxury condo building there would be no obstacle in doing so, it would just cost more to live in the higher priced building. Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal and other public officials brokered the deal to build this housing and have private developers build it. Yes the developers get tax credits and other bonuses for financing and managing, otherwise there is no incentive to build. The question that the reporters should have asked is why public officials have done nothing to change zoning laws on the West Side requiring low and middle income housing as part of the land use requirement. Why have they been so ineffective in solving housing shortage problems and fostering regulations that create scarcity, high prices and maintain property values.

      • Pedestrian says:

        Developers get huge incentives to build multimillion dollar projects that they would build anyway under the guise of providing “affordable” housing and in many instances the housing is never even provided. One developer bagged a cool $50 million for just one project. The tax breaks are enormous. Tax payers are being soaked everyday by developers and the mayor.

        We even have a virtual poor door at city hall and it is always closed!

        • Yes developers do get incentives but it is naïve to think that they aren’t paying to get these incentives. The developer has no incentive to build low cost housing which does not contribute to the profit and loss of the project. The developers in most cases are providing the land, construction funding, insurance, mortgage interest, utilities, maintenance, taxes, workman’s comp, unemployment insurance and many other overhead costs to finance a project the city refuses to build. The city in many cases puts no money into the project and provides bonuses like extra development square footage or lower taxes. The city still makes money in the form of taxes from many aspects of the project. If there is such a problem with what appears to be the developers making too much money, why isn’t the city building these projects? We have a city council that is almost all Democrats, why aren’t they doing anything about this?

          • Cato says:

            Well, let’s see.

            Democrats, like anyone else, need money to run for office, before they can call themselves “members of the City Council”.

            The more money they get, the better the chance they stand of winning election.

            My fifty or hundred bucks isn’t going to get anyone elected.

            Now *who* can you imagine who (a) has lots and lots and lots of money, and (b) is interested in shall-we-say getting friendly with the next members of the City Council?

            And do you really think — or expect us to believe you think — that any politician is going to challenge the fat-cat developers? Or take money from their greedy little paws?

            Come on.

    4. Cato says:

      It’s great that our own Avi is finally getting recognition from the more established media — but remember your roots, Avi, and don’t leave us behind!

      Of course the true tragedy in the substance here is not what has been proposed, but what is still unsaid. The “poor door” focus treats of how the poor will be treated in the company of the rich — but what about the middle class? Where is the new housing for them [us]?

      I can’t afford to even think about one of the ritzy new condos in the “rich” side of the proposed new building, but I work for a living and so earn to much to be eligible for an “affordable” apartment in the other side of the building.

      Where’s the “affordable” housing being built for the middle class?

      Answer: It’s not.

      While I respect all the politicians proudly trumpeting their “liberal” philosophies by decrying the horrible treatment of those consigned to enter this new building through the “poor door”, what about those of us who aren’t poor enough to use that door, but also aren’t rich enough to use the other, fancier door?

      What about the Middle Class?

      • Some elected official or candidate will come up in the last minute with some scheme to correct this major injustice in order to get votes in the upcoming primary. This scenario is similar to many crisis that our leaders come up with in the last minute to show they have saved the day. The public is fooled every time into thinking that they have been helped. The reality is that the elected officials could have done something about the problem long before it became a crisis.

    5. denton says:

      Cato, these apts really are for the ‘middle class’, not welfare poor. I haven’t seen the income requirements yet for this development, but looking at some others you can have an income up to 200k, depending on family size and what not. Even in NYC, 200k is pushing the ‘middle class’ label.

      • Cato says:

        According to the original posting:

        “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, according to NYC HDC; affordable 2-bedrooms will rent for $1,099 a month).”

        Two-hundred thousand dollars?? Not quite. Maybe not “welfare poor”, as you so kindly put it, but not quite open to the representative middle class, either.

        • 9d says:

          I would gladly rent one of these apartments and use a separate entrance. It really would not bother me. However, I exceed the income limits.

          The lucky beneficiaries of this program will be living better than I am. This program is really a travesty. Basically a giveaway to people who did not earn it at taxpayer expense.

    6. Rodger Lodger says:

      Doesn’t anybody remember the fiasco over the Columbia University gym — from Wikipedia (even I don’t recall how it wound up):
      Columbia’s plan to construct a gymnasium in city-owned Morningside Park also touched off negative sentiment on campus and in the Harlem community. Opposition began in 1965 during the mayoral campaign of John Lindsay, who opposed the project. By 1967 community opposition had become more militant.[2] One of the causes for dispute was the gym’s proposed design, which would have included access for residents of Harlem through a so-called “back door” to a dedicated community facility on its lower level. This design was actually a solution to the gym’s physical placement on the park’s highly-inclined slope, at the bottom of which is Harlem and at the top of which is Morningside Heights, where Columbia’s campus is situated. By 1968, 7 years after the gym’s proposal had been hailed as mutually beneficent, the civil rights movement cast things in a different light. The previously acceptable and pragmatic design was now interpreted as segregationist and therefore discriminatory, and labeled “Gym Crow”. In addition, others were concerned with the appropriation of land from a public park. Harlem activists opposed the construction because, despite being on public land and a park, Harlem residents would get only limited access to the facility.

    7. Pedestrian says:

      Thank you Mayor Bloomberg! Stop and Frisk and doors for the poor what’s next ….. You still have a few months.

    8. Barbara Michalak says:

      I saw this on MSN last night, and saw lots of outrage but also missing facts. Do the entrances have different addresses? Do both entrances give access to all elevator banks? If a ‘poor’ tenant chose to go out of his way and enter the ‘rich’ door, would he be turned away? Many apartment buildings have more than one entrance—Schwab House comes to mind—and tenants and their visitors use whichever is more convenient. Think about how many homeowners use only the garage entrance, and the front door might as well be nailed shut.

    9. Sure, renters “should be grateful.” And, yes, they’re “lucky” to have a great apartment for pennies. And even, yes, the 20 cause more problems than the 80.

      But what kind of society do we want to be when we suggest and approve of a “poor door”? Is this what it means to be civil?

      Shouldn’t the 80% be “better” than this?

      I grew up on the Upper East Side (the Silk Stocking District) and went to school in rural North Carolina. It was always joked that “down there” the rich (usually white) would live alongside the poor (usually black) but they wouldn’t socialize together. In the north, the formula was reversed. It’s no different today: we’re willing to “hang” with poor people socially, but a separate entrance means our personal sanctuaries are not sullied by their presence.

    10. Nia says:

      The article in the West Side Spirit said that the local Community Board 7 “unanimously approved a resolution questioning how this [separate entrances] will work and what impact it might have.” As if this jim crow proposal were a viable plan. CB 7 is as pathetic as the developers.

    11. ricardo d says:

      If a fire broke out and the rich could only get to safety through the poor door would the choose to die burnt rather than face the shame of being seen running to safety through the poor door???