One door for the poor. Another for the rich.
That’s the plan at a new 33-story development in New York City’s Upper West Side. The developers behind the project are building one entrance for the low-income residents who will live in the property’s affordable apartments and a separate entrance for those who will live in the building’s luxury condominiums.
“It’s the epitome of government-sanctioned inequality,” says New York Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, who represents the neighborhood.
The 40 Riverside Blvd. development isn't breaking any rules, but it is striking a nerve. Its two-door plan is prompting calls to change city housing rules and shining a light on income inequality.
The controversial development is involved in the city’s Inclusionary Housing Program, which gives developers a bonus to their building size or the ability to sell the bonus to other buildings in exchange for providing permanent affordable units. At 40 Riverside, Extell Development Co. is proposing 219 luxury units, with views overlooking the Hudson River. Fifty-five affordable apartments for households earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income are proposed in a six-story building segment.
Although developers have received inclusionary zoning approvals, they have not used the bonus at the building.
Extell officials declined to comment.
However, people opposed to the plans have plenty to say. They aren’t buying an argument that it makes sense for the affordable section to have its own entrance.
“The ‘poor door’ is an affront to New Yorkers’ belief in fairness and diversity,” says Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, who’s calling for the city to change its segmented building option in the inclusionary housing rules.
Opponents will also be watching to see if the project requests tax benefits under the city’s 421-a tax incentive program. Extell had not applied as of late July.
Rosenthal acknowledges that the condo residents will be paying more for their homes. No one is saying that the affordable apartments should have the same views, but there’s no reason to have separate entrances, she says.
Policies under review
The project began under the Bloomberg administration, but the fallout will have to be addressed by new Mayor Bill de Blasio and his team, including the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).
“The Extell project had multiple floors already constructed before this administration began,” says Eric Bederman, press secretary at HPD. “We fundamentally disagree with the approach of the project and are in the process of reviewing and changing our incentive programs to reflect our values and priorities. We want to make sure future affordable housing projects treat everybody equitably.”
A lifelong resident of the Upper West Side, Rosenthal says the controversy is tied to other issues taking place in the city. “Gentrification is spreading out deeper and deeper into the boroughs,” she says. “It’s becoming extremely difficult to be able to live in this city unless you have lots of money.”
Many older buildings have been rent-regulated. But as units come out of rent regulation, they become market rate. Property owner have often renovated these buildings, adding pools, fitness centers, rooftop decks, and other amenities. In some cases, they have forbidden rent-regulated tenants from using these new amenities even when the residents have offered to pay, says Rosenthal, a Democrat who was first elected to the state Assembly in 2006.
“For people who have lived in their building for 30 or 40 years, now part of their building, their home, is off limits,” she says. “It divides the spirit of a building and creates unnecessary strife. It’s equals and unequals in a building.”
Earlier this year, she introduced a bill (A09061) that would create a penalty for landlords who discriminate against rent-regulated tenants by prohibiting them access to new amenities and common areas. The bill calls on landlords to offer the use of the facilities to rent-regulated residents for a reasonable fee. Landlords who do not comply face a $25,000 fine.
Last year, Rosenthal introduced a bill (A08330) that calls for affordable housing units to be distributed throughout a building instead of concentrated on the same floor or in the same area.
“People say what’s great about New York is that it’s integrated,” she says. “It’s people of all stripes.”
Rosenthal and others are worried that housing developments that divide residents are changing the dynamic. “It’s the rich and everyone else,” she says.
Connect with Donna Kimura, deputy editor of Affordable Housing Finance, on Twitter @DKimura_AHF.