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: