Unaffordable Myths

There is a notion, popular in certain circles in this city and others, that with the right amount of government regulation and social engineering, the rich and the poor will reside side by side, sharing the same neighborhoods, the same watering holes, the same … doors.

That’s the fantasy, anyway. So as has been revealed over this long summer of inequality that a 33-story residential building on the Upper West Side will have a separate entrance for residents living in so-called “affordable” units within the building, there has been great outrage. A real-life tale of two cities!

The class-war demagogues had a field day with this one, as might be expected. But for those who understand the realities of real estate development and who agree with Mayor de Blasio that we have a housing crisis on our hands, the “poor door” controversy is not so simple.

First of all, here’s the good news: a developer, Extell Development Co., is creating new affordable housing. That’s good. And the units occupy a prime piece of Manhattan real estate. Even better. So something is working.

Now for the bad news: there is a renewed push in the City Council for legislation that would allow tenants in affordable housing units to sue landlords if they are denied the amenities offered to their neighbors who pay market rates for housing. Some, including Public Advocate Letitia James, insist that the so-called “poor doors” amount to segregation.

This is all about politics, not about finding solutions to the housing crisis. The mayor’s admirable goal of creating or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing won’t be advanced with cheap demagoguery. It will require creative and flexible housing policies, in collaboration with the city’s real estate industry.

Simply put, the city has to find a way to make it easier for developers to respond to the demand for affordable housing—and that means low-income as well as middle-class housing. Ideology has no place in this debate. Rather, what’s needed is a practical understanding of how the market works.

The “poor door” controversy will allow some public officials to score cheap political points, but it will do nothing to ease the housing shortage for the poor and middle class.

Nor, for that matter, will the threat of lawsuits against developers. If housing policy is held hostage to the demands of the growing “two cities” crowd, the mayor’s plan for 200,000 affordable units will become little more than a fantasy.