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City approves ‘poor door’ for affordable housing residents

Cyril Josh Barker | 7/24/2014, 9:15 a.m.
A controversial plan would allow a residential condo building to have one entrance for its residents who buy condos facing ...
New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Houses Photo by Bill Moore

Want an affordable apartment in the tony 40 Riverside Blvd. tower on the Upper West Side? Be prepared to use what’s being called the “poor door.”

Reports indicate that the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development has approved a controversial plan by developer Extell, which is building a mixed-use, 33-story residential condo building, to have one entrance for its residents who buy condos facing the Hudson River and another for affordable housing residents facing the street.

Of the 274 units in the building, 55 are being set aside for affordable housing, which is for people who are making less than approximately $51,000 and pay $1,099 for a two-bedroom apartment, according to reports.

Extell is making use of the city’s Inclusionary Housing Program, which offers an optional floor area bonus in exchange for the creation or preservation of affordable housing, on-site or off-site, principally for low-income households.

News about the segregated entrances made headlines last summer, with responses of outrage from elected officials to the local community board.

“This arrangement begs several questions,” said Mark N. Diller in an open letter to HPD Commissioner Mathew Wumba and City Planning chair Amanda Burden. “First, who will be responsible for maintenance, repair, capital improvements and other services provided to the affordable housing tenants? If the sponsor, will there be a reserve set up? Will the sponsor have the right to sell its ownership to a third party?”

The 650,000-square-foot residential tower, located between West 61st and 62nd streets, is one of several buildings that are part of a Riverside South cluster of residential buildings. Amenities include swimming pools and regulation-size basketball courts in the glass building facing the Hudson River.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said she will reject any plans for residential buildings that have “poor doors.”

“It’s not where our city should be,” she said to the AmNews. “I’ve gotten a lot of emails from people who are equally upset. It should be just one door, not two. In the Trump Towers, you can’t tell who’s who and there’s no reason why they [40 Riverside Boulevard] can’t do it.”

Last year, when Brewer was in the City Council, she sent a letter to the HPD commissioner pointing out that there was no indication that the services and maintenance in the areas of the building will be similar.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal called the arrangement at 40 Riverside Blvd. “abominable” and outdated. “A mandatory affordable housing plan is not license to segregate lower-income tenants from those who are well-bhoff,” she said. “The developer must follow the spirit as well as the letter of the law when building affordable housing, and this plan is clearly not what was intended by the community.”

A spokesman from Extell Development Company told the AmNews that the company “is declining to comment at this time” on the separate doors. HPD did not respond to requests for comment.

While mixed-use housing is becoming more commonplace in the city as more residential developments go up, this isn’t the first incident of segregating low-income residents from the wealthy occupying the same building. Residents and community leaders were outraged after management at Stonehenge Village on the Upper West Side barred rent-stabilized tenants from accessing a new exercise room for use only by market-rate tenants in the building. The Mitchell-Lama building has rent-stabilized tenants and new market-rate tenants living across the hall from each other.

Wiley Norvel, a spokesman from the mayor’s office, said, “This specific project was given a green light by the previous administration and had multiple stories already built by the time we walked in the door. The previous administration changed the law to enable this kind of development. 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.”