Manhattan Square

Shelby Welinder

Manhattan Square

Despite Mayor de Blasio banning the notion of “poor doors” in New York City, developers continue to find new and creative ways of discriminating against low-income residents when it comes to affordable housing.

The 421a tax program was established in 1971, engineered to incentivize the development of real estate in underutilized areas by significantly reducing property taxes for a certain amount of time. The tax abatement was extended to developers who agreed to provide affordable housing among glossier, high-end apartments. Many developers were greedy and managed to benefit from the millions of dollars in tax breaks along with added developmental rights like higher and wider buildings than normally considered standard. However, they were less enthused about coupling affordable units with their luxury ones. While the verbiage is politically incorrect, “poor door” is attributed to separate building entrances and, in reality, income-segregated properties often have separate amenities, as well, which can only be accessed by apartment owners or tenants with a higher income.

De Blasio took action in 2015, adding language to the legislative loophole, which was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, to supposedly outlaw “poor doors,” stating that affordable units “must share the same common entrances and common areas as the market-rate units.” This policy came into effect following the outcry over One Riverside Park in 2013, when the development company Extell announced their plans for a new complex. Subsequently, Extell constructed a luxury condominium only to put the low-income renters in a separate wing, accessible from a different address at 40 Riverside Boulevard. Although the entrance was located just around the corner, the financial disparity was glaring. Affordable housing tenants repeatedly complained about faulty buzzers, missing light fixtures, and views of a courtyard attainable only by apartment owners. However, Extell’s building, like many others, was grandfathered in.

Nevertheless, what began as a “poor door” has now evolved into the concept of a “poor building.” One Manhattan Square, which began closings this year, is another luxury residential skyscraper by Extell. This time, they built in the Two Bridges neighborhood of the Lower East Side. The condominium tower has forever altered the city skyline, the colossal 800-foot structure imposing upon the neighborhood and surrounding areas. The affordable housing portion of the building is, once again, located at a separate address: 229 Cherry Street. Only this time, it’s at an entirely separate structure on the same grounds with the smaller 13-story building sitting next to the hotel-like luxury condo.

While residents in the affordable housing section can access a shared parking lot, the differences in wealth equate to the lower-income residents not having access to the posh amenities at One Manhattan Square. Such features include a spa, fitness center, pool, bowling alley, cinema, and tea garden among others. Extell isn’t alone in its outlandish interpretation of the affordability mandate, but the company certainly hasn’t seemed to care or learn from its previous history and PR blunders.

When under fire, developers have often claimed that this is the price to be paid for integrating neighborhoods, blaming city officials for forcing inclusionary zoning policies. These companies declare that the focus should be on creating more affordable homes rather than on where people enter. Housing advocates refute that this form of financial apartheid is an affront to American values and rights, uprooting the general sense of community and furthering the wealth gap within an already alarmingly gentrified city. Supporters argue that the city should allocate funds for building affordable housing rather than with tax abatements for luxury developers.

When developers have a clear history of income discrimination, why do officials continue to approve their plans and allow them to benefit from government incentives? The real question lies in the matters of how far and how long developers will be able to continue to segregate New Yorkers until city officials will, once again, intervene.

Shelby Welinder is a freelance journalist.

10 thoughts on “Opinion: City Has Gone from Allowing ‘Poor Doors’ to Permitting ‘Poor Buildings’

  1. Pingback: November 8, 2019 - Weekly News Roundup - New York, Manhattan, and Roosevelt Island | Manhattan Community Board 8

  2. Loved the article, best part about it is the fact that developers still continue to get away with poor buildings. See 15 Hudson yards as an example, poor building in the back with a separate address and completely different amenities and fixtures with no intercoms. Everything’s handled through the phone, and even things the mayor spoke about they got away with ex: washer/Dryer not included and they offer a laundry room that charges that charges the poor,

  3. The 2nd entrance to 15 Hudson yards is 553 West 30th, It’s right next to the main entrance to The Shed. It has a beautiful lobby. And I know a lot of luxury buildings that happened to have laundry rooms instead of individual washer and dryer per Apts.

  4. I live in Extell’s “poor building” located at 229 Cherry Street. The glaring disparity is atrocious. Extell refuses to provide appropriate security for this building, which is desperately needed. Meanwhile, folks over at One Manhattan Square need fear nothing. They are secure and couldn’t care less about the sister building that allotted them their tax abatement. The mismanagement of 229 Cherry Street is out of control and our pleas for human security falls on deaf ears.

  5. “inclusionary zoning” my ass.

    No one is entitled to fancy luxury amenities. If they want them, they can pay for them like everyone else.

    Don’t you realize that this is the reason why everything is so damn expensive in this city? Constantly demanding that everything come with subsidies for the poor paid for by everyone else, is what adds additional costs onto everyone else and makes things so expensive. It also does absolutely nothing to address the real shortage of housing. Only makes people feel better that “rich” people are being taxed, and subsidies given to the poor. You care more about equalizing society than solving real problems, and getting people out of poverty.

    The real solution to NYC’s housing costs is to drastically upzone everything, and let developers build as much market rate condos housing as they want. It’s the only way to address the shortage. No one should trust government to solve poverty when, they’re the ones who created the poverty in the first place by all but banning construction.

    This has the added benefit of f-ing over landlords by dropping rental rates and property values.

    And dooming poor people to rent forever does nothing about the “wealth gap”. It just hides it.

    • Ali,

      You sound very ignorant. Not everyone who lives in “poor buildings” are poor and unemployed. We are teachers, nurses, engineers and regular working class people. We are people who rich folks depend on for their needs. We aren’t looking for handouts. We deserve the same housing quality and we shouldn’t be excluded from living and services provided to the rich. The rich love to treat us like we’re some disease. They don’t want to associate with us commoners and low income people. Sadly, privatizing housing was the worst idea. But here we are… building Mitchell llamas 2.0

      • “The rich love to treat us like we’re some disease. They don’t want to associate with us commoners and low income people.”

        Your wealthy neighbors aren’t the ones designing and building these buildings. Your beef should be with the developers, not your neighbors.

        I’d be willing to bet that all the marketing literature and open houses for the “wealthy” portions of these buildings or complexes conveniently fail to make any mention of the poor doors. If you want to effect social change, encourage the wealthier buyers/tenants to ask about this before they buy in, and consider refusing to buy in to any building which has the kinds of divisions of amenities that you’re concerned about. At the end of the day, most people vote with their wallets, including developers

    • I agree with you Ali. The subsidy should provide for the housing part, not the extra luxury part of the building. Some folks are too entitled and they believe they should get to enjoy all the luxury in the world – without paying for it

      • You have the audacity to say that low income and working class people are entitled, when the rich feel that they’re entitled to every damn thing. Go take several seats and drink a giant glass of STFU.

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