The Rise of Poor Doors: Separate Entrances for Lower Income Residents in NYC
Separate, and not at all equal
In New York City, but also in other major cities, developers are seeking tax credits through providing lower income residences within luxury high rise apartment buildings. Of course, this is common place even in more suburban areas, and often enough, the town or municipality will not approve a development unless some lower income housing is also provided. In these instances we refer to the housing as "affordable" housing. But what I came across in a Fiscal Timers article, "Front Doors Are For The Rich In These Buildings" (see article here) is in fact rather disturbing, and to me, seems to defeat the purpose of such a tax credit.
I assume most of us recall that prior to the civil rights actions of the 1950s and 1960s, it was considered perfectly fine to have African Americans and others of color use separate facilities, whether they be bathrooms, hotels, or even riding in the back of the bus. But we were able to get passed that, right? No, not right, it seems... although I do see that instead of basing the discrimination on race, we are now basing it on income, and somehow, we feel this is okay...
You see, these luxury buildings are getting substantial tax credits to allow for a number of lower priced apartments in the building. Sounds like a good idea, right? Right... Except that now, these developers are seeking permission to build separate entrances to the building for those of lower priced apartments. And moreover, they are seeking permission fro the cities to disallow access by the lower priced residents to amenities in the building such as gyms, saunas, garden decks, and of course, front doors.
Servants Entrances at the Mansion
Why Are There Tax Credits For This?
As is the case in most things, especially government, it is difficult to know the intention of those who wrote the law. But from my own research, it would seem the intent was to provide affordable housing within the city limits in such a way as to allow those with more meager means to mix and benefit from the social and cultural environment that comes with living in the city and among those of higher economic means. Clearly, it was not to create a mechanism for reestablishing the policy of separate but equal, long ago deemed inequitable.
Developers claim that since the people paying more paid more, they should get more, and so it is fair to limit access to the lower income housing residents. (Note that what constitutes lower income in such a city as New York is an income of about $52,000 a year or less... an income that would be considered reasonably high in many more rural areas.) These developers claim that since the people paying full price (the lower income apartments are not subsidized by the government, by the way) paid more, they should have access to more. Also, note that the tax credits go to the developer, not the residents. They claim it is unfair to the residents who afforded more.
Separate And Not So Equal
Do you think lower income housing in high end urban environments should restrict access to amenities and even the front door of these buildings?
Justice Based On Price
John Rawls wrote that Justice should be based on fairness. He postulates a group of people, peers, all fully informed, deciding justice based on whether they themselves would think the treatment fair. So, is this treatment of lower income residents "fair"?
A question for you: Do you think people earning around $50,000 a year somehow look different, or are an affront in some way to those who earn more? Do you think that it is reasonable to expect that if you live with others earning less than you do, that you should not have to mix with them in the lobby of the building, or in the elevator ride, or even out in front of the building? Yes people, these Poor doors are being placed in the rear of the building, much as a servants entrance was placed in the mansions of the Gilded Age.
My take on this is that if one receives a tax credit for providing housing within a luxury building to those less well off, but by no means poor, those less well off people should also get to share in the amenities of the building, like the gym, but even more importantly, should also be allowed to use the front door to enter their building. Of course, the developers claim that in fact these residences could and should be considered as being part of another building. Huh?
Mansion By the Sea: Servants Entrance in the Rear
Intent of Tax Credit
So what was the intent of these tax credits? How should these credits be interpreted? Are we now heading back to the golden age of blatant discrimination and a policy of separate but "equal"? I don't know the answers, but I do see a great many issues with such a policy. First, we open the door to further discrimination in other areas of social life. Second, which is really first, is that it is not a stated objective of the government tax policy to foster discrimination, but rather the entirely opposite: to foster integration on the social level, the residential level, the educational level, etc.
For me this policy of allowing these things to occur is disturbing at a visceral level. And I grant you that I myself have lived in such buildings, paying the higher price, and have never been disturbed by or even recognized anyone that was of lower income, or higher income for that matter. Nor have I ever noticed anyone else noticing any issues in this respect.
I am researching this issue further, and will post more on this. Let me know your thoughts.