“Separate but equal” may seem like a thing of the past, but its ideology has been revived in Manhattan. A new luxury apartment building will institute a policy where rich tenants can walk in through the fancy front door, while poorer tenants will have to enter the building through a door located in the back alley.
Extell’s new development at 40 Riverside Boulevard features 219 luxury apartments overlooking the water in an area where the average rent is well over $3,000 a month. Meanwhile, the apartment will also have 55 affordable units for lower income families that, rest assured, will have no view. The designs intended to keep rich and poorer tenants apart have some New York City community members outraged, however.
Think about it, though:
- What if someone saw a poorer-looking person walk in through the same door as a rich person and assumed the rich person was poor by proxy?
- What if a rich person had to share an elevator with a poor person and was forced to make small talk with said poor person?
- What if poor tenants somehow got the impression that they were humans deserving of equal treatment and respect despite not having money?
Now that you’ve at least tried to see it from the rich people’s perspective, okay, you can go ahead and also be outraged.
Luxury developers like David Von Spreckelsen, an executive at Toll Brothers, like to claim that, even if regulated to second-class citizens, lower-income renters are “very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.” Fine, but let’s not pretend for one second that real estate moguls have set up these affordable units out of the kindness of their hearts.
In fact, building owners stand to boost their profits by including these units. New York City’s Inclusionary Housing program provides extra incentives for owners to include some affordable housing. Not only they do receive millions in tax rebates, they are also permitted to construct their buildings taller and wider than other buildings in the neighborhood so that they can generate more money from having more tenants overall.
Presumably, the spirit of the law was not to radically divide the rich and poor within a single building, but leave it to the 1% to exploit any loopholes and maintain a clear class distinction. While younger Caucasians make up the majority of the luxury units in these apartments, people of color and the elderly more often dwell in the rent-regulated flats.
“No one ever said that the goal was full integration of the populations,” said Von Spreckelsen. “So now you have politicians… 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.”
Though the Manhattan Borough has already approved Extell’s separate doorway plan, following the backlash, Gale Brewer, the president of the organization, has pledged to reject proposals with different entrances in the future.
Sadly, this disturbing trend in is not limited to doorways. Two months ago, the New York Times reported on the growing trend of nice apartments building new amenities while barring the rent-regulated tenants from using them. Pools, gyms, rooftop gardens and storage units have been opened, but only residents who pay the top-tier rent are granted access.
Things like separate doorways aren’t just symptoms of income inequality, they are perpetuators of this flawed system. Now that the 1% can afford to avoid contact with people of a lower class, they’ll be even more out of touch with the plight of people living in poverty. The rich can more easily become numb to the injustice that surrounds them when they don’t even have to look at their neighbors who are not as privileged.