Photo Source: dailymail.co.uk
Jim Crow was an era of whites’ only water fountains, colored-free lunch counters, and relegation to the back of the bus for black people. Jim Crow was an era that many of us believed was over, brought down due to the tireless, heroic, and sometimes fatal resolve of civil rights heroes who envisioned a world where people of disparate backgrounds were able to sit down together, in the same establishment, not divided on the basis of what is different between us, but instead, united in our humanity.
While Jim Crow laws were outlawed decades ago, the spirit of those laws continues to live today, not only through racial discrimination, but through class discrimination as well. According to a Sunday report by The New York Post, The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development has approved a plan that allows Extell, a luxury housing developer, to build a high-rise condo at 40 Riverside Boulevard as part of the “Inclusionary Housing Program,” a program in which the City allows housing developers to build bigger developments in exchange for the developers agreeing to include affordable housing units within the new structure. Extell’s development will contain 264 units, 55 of which will be designated as affordable housing units. But there is a caveat: Extell will be constructing a “poor door,” a special entrance around the back of the building that makes sure that the rich people do not have to share the same entrance as the poor, lest they should have any awareness that they are sharing an address with the wretched underclass.
Daily Mail reports that some developers take no issue with plans like the one Extell proposed.
“‘No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations,’ David Von Spreckelsen, senior vice president at Toll Brothers, another developer specializing in luxury residencies, told The Real Deal in 2013. ‘So now you have politicians talking about that, saying how horrible those back doors are. I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.'”
The idea that “full integration” of “these populations” is not the goal begs the question, what exactly is the goal? The goal for developers in support of “poor doors” is no doubt to reap the benefit of the Inclusionary Housing Program without having to fully confer upon the poor the benefit of living in a mixed income building. Everyone has heard the saying, “You get what you pay for,” and this is roughly the principle that Extell is trying to apply in this situation– the poor are already way out of their league by living in this building, let us not give them too many perks, or else full-price units in the building will not be seen as exclusive and covetable.
To be sure, the argument is not that the penthouse should be an affordable housing unit, or that the affordable housing units must be equipped with the same lavish amenities that may be included in other units. However, one view of the goal of this program is to do what many cities have increasingly been trying to do: to move away from the housing project, and to put an end to the concept that poor people should be relegated to specific buildings in specific areas– quarantined and prevented from rubbing shoulders with the wealthy. To have a separate low-income entrance to a mixed-income development is to circumvent a lot of what is good about income diversity within residential buildings, and creates a de-facto housing project within the building. This type of divide within what is supposed to be one residence, reeks of a shameful era that our country has been trying so hard to move past, and because of the ongoing systemically perpetuated link between race and class, the policy has dangerous implications. What do front door residents look like, and who will be charged with making sure that back door tenants do not congregate where they don’t belong? The possibilities do and should make us uncomfortable, and hopefully, will give future tenants pause about supporting a building that does not support equality.