The ignominious cry of “separate but equal” is rarely heard these days, nevermind in the offices of architects, developers, city government, and the court of public opinion. But that’s exactly what Linda Rosenthal, a local New York State Assembly Representative, called the design of developer Extell’s 40 Riverside Boulevard, now under construction. The decision to build a “poor door” in the building’s rear, a separate entrance for the building’s 55 affordable rental units, has divided commentators: is the real story here our time’s de facto socioeconomic segregation or is it New York City’s failure to provide adequate housing policy? Where does this leave architects in an acrimonious debate among the public and developers?
This controversy was more than a year in the making. In mid August of 2013, the developer Extell applied for the benefits of New York City’s Inclusionary Housing Program with its 40 Riverside Boulevard residential tower, part of a residential development stretching from West 61st to 72nd Street in Manhattan. 40 Riverside is 33 stories, with 219 market-rate condominiums and 55 affordable rental units. New York City’s Inclusionary Housing program, begun in 1987, provides developers who voluntarily build permanent affordable units with increased square footage (also known as FAR). These units are available to those who make 60% of the Area Median Income and receive reduced rent rates, such as a two-bedroom unit for $1,099. So, while developers may receive less rent from certain apartments, a building with 20% affordable units receives a 33% more square footage. News of the design prompted the West Side Rag, a local news blog, to coin the term “poor door.”