A so-called "poor door" has been approved for an Upper West Side luxury highrise in Manhattan where residents who pay market-rate will use one door facing the waterfront, and others, living in "affordable" units, are designated a separate entrance.
The issue highlights what Mayor Bill de Blasio has called "A Tale of Two Cities," in which low-income residents struggle to get by, and there isn't enough affordable housing to go around. New York zoning policies extend tax breaks and grant permission for projects to developers that set aside "affordable housing units" for tenants that make less than 60 percent of the median income.
The policy also allows for a separate entrance for those units. The mayor has since pledged to abolish the "poor door" stipulation, which was an inheritance from the Bloomberg administration.
“We fundamentally disagree with that approach, and we are in the process of changing it to reflect our values and priorities. We want to make sure future affordable housing projects treat all families equitably," a de Blasio spokesperson, Wiley Norvell, told Newsweek.
Restrictions on other amenities — like children's playrooms and swimming pools — will also likely not fly.
The "poor door" controversy shines a light on the affordable housing crisis in cities across the country, from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. In expensive cities like New York, people who meet the 60 percent median income requirement aren't even necessarily low-income — they are often medium-income families.
"The nurses, the policemen, the firemen, all of those folks who are critical to the success of a city are being priced out of the housing market," Beth Mullen, national director in the affordable housing industry practice of national accounting, tax and advisory firm CohnReznick, said in a report in Commercial Property Executive.
A report by NYU Furman Center and Capital One says that more than one million households in New York City are "rent-burdened," meaning that they pay more than 30 percent of household income on rent, and approximately 600,000 of those shell out more than 50 percent of their income on rent.
Toni Smart, a 28-year old mother of two in Washington, D.C., told NPR that she has struggled to find an apartment that she can afford that's close to her job in the district, so she's lives in a run-down apartment with no heat. She qualifies for subsidized housing, but there are 72,000 families on the city's wait list.
"Where am I going to find another apartment for $769 (a month)? You know? Where am I going to find one? I'd rather deal with no heat than be back in the shelter," Smart told NPR, and said that in the meantime she heats her apartment with her stove when she can.
Mayor de Blasio announced Wednesday that the city will commit $350 million in private and public funding to renovate 7,500 apartments, a step toward his 10-year goal of adding 200,000 affordable units.
For a family struggling family de Blasio said that “nothing can be more life-changing” than obtaining an affordable unit: “It sets that family on an entirely different course,” he said.
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