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'Poor doors' in New York housing are no more
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The practice of maintaining two entrances in luxury residential towers one for low-income tenants and another for wealthier tenants which has been labeled "income segregation," is now illegal. - photo by Omar Etman
Poor doors the separate building entrance for low-income renters living in New York Citys high-income housing are no more.

As part of Mayor Bill de Blasios ambitious 10-year housing plan, announced this time last year, developers are required to set aside 20 percent of all units in residential projects for low-income residents in exchange for substantial tax breaks, of course.

Eager to comply without losing upscale buyers, developers of luxury towers used a loophole in existing zoning codes to create a so-called poor door that would separate the two classes of tenants.

Now the poor door, at the mayors behest, is dead. The updated rent-regulation bill, approved last week, made it clear that income discrimination would not be tolerated.

"Affordable units shall share the same common entrances and common areas as market rate units, it states.

The poor door was a response to the mayor's strategy of economic integration. But implementation of the policy wasn't a smooth process. Simply put, "rich people like to live among rich people," according to the Times, "...out of the belief that this arrangement best protects the value of their asset."

Low-income renters, who pay a lot less to live in the same space, can hurt a building's marketability because "renting has the taint of transience, diminished stability and so on."

How much less do low-income renters pay? In the case of 40 Riverside, a lot less.

Situated along the Hudson River on Manhattans Upper West Side, 40 Riverside was at the center of the poor door controversy. Market-rate apartments at the tower averaged $3 million. Affordable units, available to households earning between $35,280 to $50,340 a year, go for around $1,000 a month.

This 'separate but equal' arrangement is abominable and has no place in the 21st century, let alone on the Upper West Side, city assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal told Curbed.

Its such a visual separation, she explained to the Times in a separate interview. It gets at people when they see two separate doors. Its no longer theoretical. It looks and smells like discrimination.

But without the poor door, developers worry that it will be difficult to bring in buyers while complying with the city.

We wouldnt be able to do affordable, Gary Barnett, developer of 40 Riverside, told the Times, without giving away the most valuable units. It wouldnt make any financial sense.

Even some low-income residents were OK with the arrangement.

Living here is a privilege, Victoriano Oviedo, a retiree who has a subsidized studio in Brooklyn, said to the Times. Over there you have powerful people. Over here you have low-income people. Im fine with that."

But theres no escaping the fact that the poor door goes against New Yorks ethos of inclusivity.

New York has always been an economically diverse city, with everyday people rubbing shoulders with millionaires and Bohemian artists on the streets, Mireya Nivarro wrote in the Times. But the poor-doors image taps into the anxiety of many New Yorkers that the city is becoming livable only for the wealthy.

Mayor de Blasios housing plan is his administrations biggest attempt at countering this fear. Its centerpiece is the planned construction of 80,000 affordable units over the next decade, some in low-income buildings and others in luxury high rises of which all will have a shared entrance.