Poor poor pitiful door: Part 5, About a year

September 18, 2014 | Apartments, Condominiums, Development, Discrimination, Economics, GAIA, Housing, Inclusionary zoning, Journalism, Linkage, London, Markets, New York City, Rental | No comments 21 views

[Continued from yesterday's Part 4 and the preceding Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.]

By: David A. Smith

By now, after four parts on a GAIA (God Ain’t It Awful) story about the separation of entrances in a fantastically located mixed-income property on New York’s West Side, readers may have deduced that I think the outrage frothed up and overblown – in which case, why kill so many pixels on the subject?


We had to enter the maze to find the beast within

Sources used in this post

Steve Cuozzo, New York Post (August 27, 2013, a year ago; brown font)

The Guardian (July 25, 2014; black font)

New York Times (Ginia Bellafante; July 25, 2014; blue font)

Slate (July 29, 2014; slate-gray font)

New York Post (July 28, 2014; green font)


I hate stereotyping, don’t you?

Aside from my general irritation that the subject was so deliberately misrepresented, these little flashpoints of zeitgeist illustrate both the human reality (we wish to think ourselves better than others), the political dynamics (no one ever went broke underestimating the American public), and the journalistic imperative (‘if it bleeds, it leads’), and how these collectively are the enemy of effective public policy.

And that’s important, because even as affordable housing does not exist inn economic nature, affordable housing policy does not exist in political nature.  It’s not a politician’s natural response – rent control is, even though rent control is the worst public policy imaginable.  So the sound bite/ headline/ catch-phrase mode of political discourse does meaningful damage to what I care about – and that doesn’t just tick me off, it makes me enduringly angry.

Critics of 40 Riverside aren’t satisfied merely to play the “racism” card.  Council Speaker/mayoral candidate Christine Quinn [At the time, a mayoral candidate, who lost – Ed.], Councilman Robert Jackson [At the time, candidate for Manhattan Borough President; he lost – Ed.]  and Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal are insisting that all residents of any future “inclusionary” building must enjoy exactly the same apartments, views and services, whether they pay peanuts or a fortune to live there.

Sorry: Such rules would mean no “affordable” units being built at all.


No such luck

Certainly no one would take the density bonus in that case; the cost wouldn’t be worth it.  Mayor de Blasio would be back trying to compel the market to produce.

Land and construction costs in the city are so high, developers must maximize the return on their investments. Requiring luxury condos to share floors with subsidized rentals means a developer must swallow losses on subsidized units at prime locations within a building, which otherwise could be sold for market value.

The development equation is:

Density bonus versus affordability requirement

Feasibility equation

Net loss from affordable apartments (Cost-value gap)


Marginal profit from one more apartment in the sky

(Value when built minus direct construction cost)

For the developer, this equation gets worse as one goes further up, because those immutable laws of physical gravity (square-cube law) mean taller buildings must be proportionately thicker in the structure and building core.  There comes a point where zoning isn’t the constraint, physics and economics are.



Barnett points out, “If you say that in any project getting an inclusionary bonus zoning, the affordable units would have to take up some of our best views and units, nobody would build them.”

D3. Build farther out

Separating the affordable linkage apartments from the conventional ones offers the very useful possibility of using lower-cost land (or even city-owned land) to create more affordable homes for the same money.

Some would argue that integration ought to be subordinate to the greater goal of simply building as much affordable housing as possible, something more easily done in parts of the city where land is farther from central quarters of wealth and power, and thus cheaper.

Land value is an expression of where people want to live and work; anything more than that is inferential gloss.

Planning documents for the 56 Curzon Street development in Mayfair show that the developers told the local council “that on-site provision of affordable housing would result in significant design inefficiencies due to the need for separate entrances and building cores”.

Curzon Street development

Curzon Street, where developers argued affordable housing provision would result in ‘design inefficiencies’.

Conversely, the reviled Bloomberg amendments made this a choice, not an obligation:

One provision [of the 2009 zoning code amendments] said developers of market-rate condos could include affordable units on-site, instead of off-site, while allowing for the separation of a number of services that included the entrances.

For that matter, if inclusion is such a goal, why not move public housing or supportive housing downtown while one is at it?

Some argue that the city’s entire historic approach to “affordable housing” is flawed, yielding such truly segregated monstrosities as East Harlem’s instant-ghetto “Project Wall” from First to Lenox (Sixth) Avenue [James Weldon Johnson Houses – Ed.] and from 112th to 115th streets.


James Weldon Johnson, 1871-1938, poet and NAACP General Secretary

That’s why inclusionary zoning was created, and why the furtherance of inclusionary zoning is worthwhile even with its inherent tradeoffs.

While that kind of approach may be more economically efficient, and even ethically merited, it is hard to see it as more socially purposeful.

Another double-whammy equivalence: one gets more affordable housing, whereas New York’s homeless often choose great locations to be homeless in, which is to me a social purpose of a much higher order than the abstract of elevator- and lobbying-mixing.

D4. Build fewer

If one wants simple solutions, and one doesn’t trust the market, and one does trust elected officials to hold the public interest at heart, then there is an easy answer: give the government cash in the form of linkage payments, and let it choose where to build the apartments; then the city could decide if it wanted more, plainer apartments farther out, or a few luxury well-located gems (mysteriously captured by the politically savvy or connected).

Darren Johnson of the Green Party added: “The mayor and councils have been turning a blind eye to this for too long, they should simply refuse applications that have separate facilities or that refuse any affordable housing on this basis.”


Talk to the hand, not the blind eye

Does that mean Mr. Johnson believes no new council housing should be built in London?  Council housing is entirely separate and has no unregulated component.

E. A tempest or a teapot?


The story’s too big for a teapot

A good GAIA story should also pose a political question as if policy were all:

How, and to what extent, should the city mandate economic integration?

One cannot mandate what one does not pay for.

One can zone for whatever one wants, but then one depends on development, and development in turn depends on economic viabilitiy.

Wiley Norvell, Mayor de Blasio’s spokesman, said that the administration is working on amending the zoning language to prevent future developments with similar split entrances.

“Now that we are in a position to bring those rules fully into line with our priorities and values, we will make the necessary changes to ensure families in affordable housing are treated equitably.”

Among the other elected officials who voted in favor of the 2009 zoning changes are current Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Public Advocate Letitia James.  Asked about her vote, Brewer also said the two-doors effect emerged from a “small” provision in a “long” resolution.

I wonder, does Ms. Brewer’s building have a doorman?  Does it have affordable housing included within it?

“A separate door on a building that benefits one specific project evades the spirit of our city — and we are working to close this loophole.”

Across the Atlantic, London’s mayor doesn’t see things that way:

London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is required to approve all new housing projects of 150 units or more, has gone on the record as saying that he doesn’t like the separate entrances and encourages removing them from building plans whenever possible.

The Guardian reported Monday that he has ruled out a poor-door ban, arguing that it can help curb housing costs for poorer residents who can’t afford the service charges associated with doormen or posh common spaces.

He doesn’t like separate entrances but he won’t rule it out.  There, at least, is a coherent position.

Development hinges on movements of people into neighborhoods they find more desirable now than those neighborhoods were before.  This is fiendishly hard to anticipate:


One could certainly have expected these good bones to come back

Gentrification, when it doesn’t result in wholesale displacement, accomplishes this to some degree. Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood and Boerum Hill in Brooklyn have both witnessed significant surges in real estate prices in recent years, though both areas are home to vast public housing complexes. Multimillion-dollar brownstones and apartments are in immediate view of buildings that house the very poor.

You can’t predict the future – and those public housing properties’ days may be numbered.

It may be wiser to concentrate affordable-housing efforts in areas where there would at least seem to be an organic interest in economic diversity, rather than force it in less receptive places.

In the end, the development at Riverside Boulevard will have generated a lot of controversy and political heat, all for the benefit of fewer than five dozen families in a city where more than 50,000 people are homeless.

New York City. Homeless man.

50,000 of him, 55 in 40 Riverside

A GAIA story doesn’t really want change; it wants readers to be stirred up, to feel righteous and superior, and to admire journalists for ‘standing up for the little guy.’  Hence these stories tend to return, like the swallows to Capistrano, at the same time every year.  As I was researching this one, I found exactly the same story line, about exactly the same property, a full year earlier: August, 2013, with the same rhetoric.

The mushrooming stink over the ‘two-door’ policy at 40 Riverside Blvd. is noxious on every level. Contrary to howls that it’s tantamount to “apartheid,” separate entrances at Extell Development Co.’s planned new condo/rental project are well-precedented and logistically necessary.

Last summer, just as New York’s mayoral campaign was heating up, 40 Riverside became a convenient political scapegoat for the lame-duck Bloomberg Administration, and as we saw many ambitious New York elected officials came out strongly against it.  But then, with new mayor de Blasio in office, seven months went by with no action on this front – instead Mayor de Blasio announced a dramatic, ambitious, and implausible 200,000-home affordable housing production goal.  Tightening inclusionary zoning to eliminate this feature, if it does anything, will work against that goal.

The focus now is to reverse the zoning change, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen told me, a process that should take about a year.


See you next year

‘About a year’?  Just in time for another round of GAIA stories when 40 Riverside is being occupied.

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Poor poor pitiful door: part 4, Loophole du jour

September 17, 2014 | Apartments, Condominiums, Development, Discrimination, Economics, GAIA, Housing, Inclusionary zoning, Journalism, Linkage, London, Markets, New York City, Rental | No comments 105 views

[Continued from yesterday's Part 3 and the preceding Part 1 and Part 2.]

By: David A. Smith

Yesterday’s Part 3 observed the egalitarianism paradox of ‘poor door’ apartments – that properties which otherwise would have been entirely segregated (100% luxury, 0% affordable) are criticized as exclusionary because the new apartments developed – with no government money, remember – aren’t sufficiently inclusionary because they have different entrances.


Poor people enter that way

Sources used in this post

Steve Cuozzo, New York Post (August 27, 2013, a year ago; brown font)

The Guardian (July 25, 2014; black font)

New York Times (Ginia Bellafante; July 25, 2014; blue font)

Slate (July 29, 2014; slate-gray font)

New York Post (July 28, 2014; green font)

And the journalists – for most of the criticism came from GAIA writers, with both residents and politicians reacting to the media-led God-Ain’t-It-Awful presumptive headlines – chose to treat economics as of no negligible weight:

Developers said [Fact is presented without evaluation, as if it were a dubious proposition to be cross-examined later. – Ed.] separate doors let housing associations keep costs down as they avoided premium service charges paid by private residents.

In the UK, for historical reasons, professional affordable housing property managers are almost invariably non-profit housing associations, many of them large, professional, well capitalized and extremely sophisticated.  They’re neither rubes nor patsies.


Say, paw, is he makin’ fun of us?

“In addition, we have taken every step necessary to ensure that our development meets the needs of all of its residents and we go through a lengthy consultation process with housing associations to establish both a design that meets their requirements whilst making it as affordable as possible for their residents.”

Still, the Guardian tries again with another double-whammy ‘however’:

Of course, the separate doors to these developments mean that the housing associations who run the affordable properties and their tenants do not face the service charges attached with the luxurious surroundings that wealthy buyers have now come to expect and accept.  However, the stark difference between the entrances, and, in some cases their positioning, rankles with some of those who live there.

What is the price you’d pay to avoid being rankled?  Perhaps there’ll be a city-wide boycott of the affordable apartments when they open. 


No customers, plenty of messages


Getting the message out

Then again, perhaps not:

Despite the mud-slinging, Barnett’s confident: “There will be thousands of applicants” for the subsidized rentals when the lottery starts late next year, and, “We’ll have 55 very happy sets of residents.”

C4. “The zoning is responsible because it’s a loophole”

If one cannot rely on people to boycott for a principle against their own economic interest, maybe the city should prevent them from being put in such an awful position.

In an ideal universe, progressive leaders would possess marketing skills so profound that they could alter and recast our definitions of status, so that we might see the aggressive and intimate mixing of disparate populations as having its own cachet and appreciable value.

Yes, we’ll reverse four thousand years of human history with progressive and profound marketing skills.


Now I know how to hate cavemen any more

“I doubt any of us on the council were aware of that provision; I certainly wasn’t,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Then maybe New York should have\ a shorter zoning code, don’t you think?  In the meantime:

The city’s Housing Preservation and Development Department clearly allows all of a new building’s “inclusionary” apartments to be located within a particular segment of it — i.e., a building within a building.

When a developer chooses to place the affordable units in such a “discrete” portion, zoning rules require a separate entrance for it — in part to make it easier for the units to be separately managed by a nonprofit in the future.

Which is it to be then, affordability or complete mixing?

D. If there’s a cost difference, how should it be covered?

Maybe New York City could streamline its development approval processes. 


Could that happen?


Riverside Boulevard was approved in 2009 and won’t be occupiable for another year; that’s six years of development with land-value carrying costs and legal/ advisory/ permitting bills that must run well into the millions.

As a thought experiment, what if the affordable housing mandate were portable – that is, quality apartments to be built at another location, one which doesn’t have such a market premium. 

Some provide the cheaper homes in separate blocks.

Then 40 Riverside would be 165 condominium apartments as exclusive as can be, and 55 affordable housing would be built somewhere else (even, potentially next door).  Would this spark similar outrage?


Are you not offended? The Edge in Williamsburg

In Williamsburg, high-profile apartment projects The Edge and Northside Piers “segregate” subsidized renters from condo owners not merely with separate entrances, but in entirely separate buildings. [Presumably adjacent to one another – Ed.]  Yet nobody there’s whining that this relegates renters to “the status of second-class citizens,” as Manhattan Community Board 7 says of 40 Riverside.

Thus it’s something about cohabitation – sharing an elevator – to raise hackles.

Like the administration, [Public Advocate Letitia] James’ spokeswoman Aja Davis pointed to the overall benefits of the zoning changes approved within the 2009 measure, calling Extell’s separation of units by income an “exploitation” of the amendment.

There it is, a dreaded loophole we’ve heard so many stories about.


A spokesman for de Blasio’s office in New York said this week : “We fundamentally disagree with (separate doors), and we are in the process of changing it to reflect our values and priorities. We want to make sure future affordable housing projects treat all families equitably.”

What is equitable? 

Ponzio Pilato Year 1962 Directors Gian Paolo Callegari and Irving Rapper Jean Marais

What is equitable? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer

And for that matter, since the City isn’t providing any subsidy, just monetizing the density, what are the alternatives to achieve financial feasibility?


Who cares what it costs?  I’m not paying it, you are

D1. Build smaller

If the square feet are too costly, build fewer of them.  Perhaps New York and London should expand the creation of micro-apartments (after all, they’ve gathered plenty of favorable press):

Of course the classist notion of having separate entrances to a single dwelling is nothing new. At 5 Tudor City Place in Manhattan, for example, a multimillion-dollar penthouse has a private elevator, while 20-some other floors of 1920s micro-apartments, many of which are too small to be legally built today [Extinction by zoning – Ed.], share a block of four elevators.

People have different earning power and different spending power, but we all have the same hours in a day.  People with lots of money place a higher economic value on their time than do people with less money. 

Large buildings or fancy homes sometimes have service entrances for employees. In Paris, another world capital with an affordable housing crisis –

Paris too has NIMBYite zoning restrictions and tortuous development approval processes, as well as tight restrictions on apartment subletting. 

– the miniature (starting at 53-square-foot) former maids’ rooms (known as chambres de bonne) found in many elegant Haussmanian apartment buildings are typically top-floor walkups where the servants used to live.


Renovated chambre de bonne: plenty of room as long as you have no people?

In recent years they have been rebaptized with the more politically correct term studettes and become an affordable, if not always glamorous, option for students and those of modest means who lack access to subsidized housing. They are often reached by dedicated service staircases or the occasional service elevator.


Roof line suggesting chambres de bonne within

[Sidebar: I think it highly likely that these chambres de bonne were built informally, that is to say illegally, at the time, and over the decades have been grandfathered in to the Parisian building codes – a good example of formal becoming informal, and then informal becoming formal.  – Ed.]

When they are accessible by elevator or the main stairwell of the building, those features are always underlined in real estate ads as a selling point, even though these rooms often do not include showers, kitchens, or private toilets.  

Who would rather have a public staircase over a private toilet?

You may live in a room built for a 19th-century servant, it seems to suggest, but you can ascend to your quarters on the same elegant staircase that is shared by everyone.

Strangely enough, real estate ads seldom highlight a property’s drawbacks.

D2. Build simpler

If smaller is not preferable (or insufficient), then perhaps simpler may be.  Building simpler is part of the logic behind a separate entrance.  Don’t build for a massive lobby with expensive surface treatments when a smaller one will save the residents money; same thing with elevators (number and speed).

Tracey Kellett, a buying agent who trawls the capital looking for homes for wealthy clients, said a number of developments have separate entrances “so the two social strata don’t have to meet”.


Kellett believes that strata are layers, not blends

In one: “The affordable [housing] has vile colored plastic panels on the outside rather than blingy glass.”

Taste is in the eye of the beholder, and yet ‘blingy’ is no compliment.

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Arrivals

Which door do I go in?

[Continued tomorrow in Part 5.]

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Poor poor pitiful door: Part 3, Hunting for culprits

September 16, 2014 | Apartments, Condominiums, Development, Discrimination, Economics, GAIA, Housing, Inclusionary zoning, Journalism, Linkage, London, Markets, New York City, Rental | No comments 91 views

[Continued from yesterday's Part 2 and the preceding Part 1.]

By: David A. Smith

In yesterday’s Part 2, I laid out the arguments made, chiefly by keyboard crusaders masquerading as reporters, that ‘poor doors’ (separate entrances in a mixed-income building for affordable housing renters) are demeaning, discriminatory, and in general un-American.


We’re from Christendom and we’re here to help you

Sources used in this post

Steve Cuozzo, New York Post (August 27, 2013, a year ago; brown font)

The Guardian (July 25, 2014; black font)

New York Times (Ginia Bellafante; July 25, 2014; blue font)

Slate (July 29, 2014; slate-gray font)

New York Post (July 28, 2014; green font)

Which immediately raises the question: if they’re so inherently offensive, why are they designed and built?

C. Who’s responsible for these ‘poor doors’, anyway?

Whether they are harmless or dignity-crushing, separate entrances don’t happen by accident – somebody built the property, somebody designed it, and somebody approved its design.  Whose fault is it?


Now we’ve unmasked the real villain!

C1. “Developers are responsible because they’re greedy”

When writing a GAIA story, always start with the easiest to demonize, and who more so than the developers:

Some are coy about the subject. Native Land, which is currently building Cheyne Terrace just off Kings Road in Chelsea, complete with a swimming pool and gym, refused to comment when asked if its 13 affordable housing units would be accessed via a separate door.

However, the website of John Robertson Architects, which has designed the building, makes it clear this is the case.


You have been found out!

Evidently John Robertson Architects didn’t get the message that poor doors are inherently offensive, but as they are architects, not developers, they were given a journalistic free pass.

In a bid to ease the housing crisis, developers are obliged to provide a set proportion of affordable homes when they draw up a new project, but they are often able to negotiate this figure down with local planners.

As I’ve previously posted, inclusionary zoning that is zero-sum (such as the UK’s Section 106) create a nasty bilateral negotiation that often stalls properties indefinitely, because every pound surrendered (in the form of additional affordability) is just economic deadweight; there’s no compensating benefit.  That’s why London’s rate of new inclusionary-zoning affordable-housing development is so slow, and also why the capital has such a housing shortage. 


We have no idea why we’re not building what we need


But we do know that prices are rising faster than is good for us

When the inclusionary-zoning has a compensatory benefit (or even, occasionally, is positive-sum), the dynamics are quite different:

Extell is including the rental units:

1. To get a tax abatement [Section 421a – Ed.], and also

2. To tap a city-sponsored bonus which would allow it to construct a larger building than zoning allows.

(In fact, Extell opted not to apply the floor-space bonus at 40 Riverside, but instead to it hold it in reserve for possible sale to another nearby site — as is perfectly legal.)

Portaging the density bonus from the subject site to a future site implies two revealing economic things:

1. Extell believed that the bonus density would be more valuable elsewhere and by further inference concluded that more apartments on the Riverside site would overbuild the submarket.

2. Extell didn’t need the extra height/ apartments on the Riverside site to make the numbers work there.

For a developer, everything is about the arithmetic, in particular the market price:

A developer erecting a structure with $3 million apartments is going to worry, not irrationally, that those apartments will be less marketable if they are next door to those renting for $1,000 a month.

C2. “Rich people are responsible because they’re snobs”


It’s hell being rich

Because a developer’s profits (and indeed, its ongoing viability) depend on judging what the market will market, they become sensitive to market perceptions:

As the London housing market has boomed the expectations of some of the capital’s wealthiest homebuyers have grown and many properties now have communal areas akin to those in some of the world’s best hotels.

Indeed, developers – especially those with a single focus of profit – may become hypersensitive to those market perception, and pre-emptively eliminating anything that might be even a momentary distraction to the high-end proposition:

“When Ken Livingstone left office he was keen that all developments should have their social housing ‘pepper-potted’ – mixed in with all the other more upmarket accommodation,” said Ed Mead, a director at estate agent Douglas & Gordon which sells upmarket properties in central London. “This didn’t go down well with developers with the result that most developments now have a separate entrance and a different look.”


Saint Peter with the kingdom of London?

That has to be principally because some people will choose to spend their money elsewhere than will other people.

The [market homeowner] lobby is out of bounds to some of those who live in the building.  The brochure doesn’t mention a second door, with a considerably less glamorous lobby, tucked away in an alley to the side of the building, alongside the trade entrance for Pret-a-Manger. This is the entrance for One Commercial Street’s affordable housing tenants.

Yet that is basic logic; between glamour and cost, a rich person may choose the glamour; a middle-income person will save the cost. 

As nearly the entire Upper East Side from Lexington Avenue to Fifth can lay testament, rich people like to live among rich people.

Because like likes living with like, top-end homeowners want assurance of security:

The Riverside development is unusual, and even vaguely radical, in the sense that its luxury units are condominiums rather than rental apartments.

Typically, buildings like it, which combine market-rate and affordable units, offer none of them for sale.

Combinations of owned condos and rented affordable apartments are more common in London than in New York.


What I think of poor people

It isn’t simply that rich people find poorer people yucky, though in some cases that will certainly be true, but that owners typically prefer living among other owners, out of the belief that this arrangement best protects the value of their asset. Renting has the taint of transience, diminished stability and so on.

We’ve seen that homeownership changes behavior, usually for the better; that people in living clubs (like co-operatives) become quite familiar with each other (perhaps too familiar, to judge by the income-certification police). 

There is also a socioeconomic gulf:

In this case, a building in which apartments are trading at $2,000 a square foot will also contain 55 apartments for households earning $35,280 to $50,340 a year. (At the top range the household must contain at least four people.)

In fact, let’s put those figures in context.  Assuming a 1,250 square foot condominium flat, with 20% down and a 30-year mortgage loan at 5.0%, the debt service alone will be $10,750 a month; add to that condo fees (including reserves) and real estate property taxes, and the net payment is $12,000 a month or more; meanwhile, if we use 30% of income for rent, the affordable households will pay between $880 and $1,260 a month, or an average of roughly $1,070.  That is, the market tenants – condo buyers – will pay roughly 11x as much as the affordable residents, and even if we assume that the affordable residents remain houselocked as long as possible – knowing a fantastic deal when they see it – they’re unlikely ever to blend economically.

In north-west London the developers behind Queen’s Park Place are more upfront about how its 28 affordable and 116 market-rate homes [20% affordable, 80% market – Ed.] will co-exist – its marketing website says the external appearance will be uniform across all properties – or “tenure blind”.


Everything looks the same to me

I suspect some of this is legally-required disclosure in the UK (which is a good thing; it is always better to be clear).

Inside the building the two types of resident will be treated very differently: “Affordable tenants will not have use of the main private residential entrance, private courtyard gardens or basement car and cycle parking. Services including postal delivery and refuse storage are also divided.”

Why then do the poorer people put up with it?

C3. “Poor people are responsible because they’re choosing what they wish to pay for”

Peter Allen, sales and marketing director for Londonewcastle which is behind the Queens Park Place development in north London said housing associations were sometimes unable to pay for all of the facilities covered by service charges. “The simplest way from a design perspective is to have things separate.”


Allen likes keeping things simple from a profit perspective

“Affordable accommodation is managed separately by Network Housing who have full control of the services and facilities provided to its tenants, said James Moody of Redrow London –

This too is common in the UK: the market portion is managed by a conventional rental agent/ manager; the affordable piece by an affordable-housing manager.

“– and have a set cap for service charges.”

Unless there’s a government subsidy [Fat chance – Ed.], the ongoing service charges – that is, charges for non-residential amenities – have to be paid for by the residents themselves. 

Service charges to maintain these are high, and a separate entrance means housing associations and their tenants do not face these extra costs. However, as in New York, there are concerns that it is leading to increasingly divided communities.


Double your whammy?

Note the double-whammy of journalistic equivalence, where via an immediate ‘however’ an economic reality is negated by a social possibility in an anonymous passive-aggressive voice (‘there are concerns’).


Notice too how an inclusionary measure – one that successfully brings affordable housing into a neighborhood where the Law of Economic Pressure would otherwise be completely priced out of that rapidly gentrifying location – is presented as implicitly exclusionary (‘increasingly divided communities’) because of a feature not of the apartments themselves, but of their manner of entry.

[Continued tomorrow in Part 4.]

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Poor poor pitiful door: Part 2, Presumption of offense

September 15, 2014 | Apartments, Condominiums, Development, Discrimination, Economics, GAIA, Housing, Inclusionary zoning, Journalism, Linkage, London, Markets, New York City, Rental | No comments 91 views

[Continued from yesterday's Part 1.]

By: David A. Smith

Yesterday’s post introduce the ‘poor door’, the catchy pejorative term for a mixed-income residential property, typically built under an inclusionary zoning program (such as London’s Section 106 or New York City’s 421a), where the market residents (who may also be owners, not renters), have a different building entrance (and even street address) that the affordable residents, who are always renters.


An input to discrimination, or its output?

The facts about the development at 40 Riverside Boulevard, as well as its peers in London, highlight another feature of a good GAIA story – whatever terrible thing is being discussed has already happened, so there’s nothing to do but blame.

Although the building’s configuration is anathema to the values embraced by the de Blasio administration, forcing the developer to abandon it would involve costly, not entirely tenable litigation, which would slow the progress of the city’s affordable-housing plans, the administration said.

Actually, even in New York City that would be a slam-dunk regulatory-takings case (Riverside Boulevard’s development was approved in 2009) that would cost the city a fortune.

Sources used in this post

Steve Cuozzo, New York Post (August 27, 2013, a year ago; brown font)

The Guardian (July 25, 2014; black font)

New York Times (Ginia Bellafante; July 25, 2014; blue font)

Slate (July 29, 2014; slate-gray font)

New York Post (July 28, 2014; green font)

Because the dreadful event is in the past, current officials can safely blame their predecessors – always good political theater – and can rack up political capital by a judicious mixture of deploring the past and promising Sweeping Change in the future:?

This week New York’s mayor, Bill De Blasio, said he planned to take action to prevent new developments being built with separate entrances and facilities for low-income residents.

Truth be told, Mayor de Blasio might be interested in political posturing or political vaporware more than political action.


Young Bill de Blasio protesting high college fees, 1981

Multimillion pound housing developments in London are segregating less well-off tenants from wealthy homebuyers by forcing them to use separate entrances.



Pretty soon you’ll need a civil war to sort this out

Condo buyers will enter through a door on Riverside Boulevard; renters through one on West 62nd Street.


Separate entrances also mean separate mailing addresses, which is helpful for branding and does no harm; that’s why it’s often seen in (say) combination office-retail-residential, where the use of a street address guides you to the proper door.

While the approval for segregated entrances in just one building in New York generated headlines [Remember, it was the summertime GAIA fix – Ed.], they are fast becoming standard practice in London.

Is there something inherently shameful about using a separate entrance?

B. Are ‘poor doors’ inherently offensive?

In a GAIA story, right and wrong must be so self-evident they needn’t be explained – and by extension, anyone who even tacitly condones such behavior, much less defending it, must be morally oblivious if not worse:

At one building bordering the City financial district, the Guardian discovered wealthy owners accessed their homes via a hotel-style lobby area, while social housing tenants enter through a side door in an adjacent alley alongside trade entrances.

The Guardian ‘discovered’ this – as if it were a secret.


And I have more secrets I’ll reveal in due course

The brochure for the upmarket apartments of One Commercial Street, on the edge of the City, boasts of a “bespoke entrance lobby … With the ambience of a stylish hotel reception area, it creates a stylish yet secure transition space between your home and the City streets”.

Commercial Street brochure

Secret marketing documents captured and published here for the first time

These large properties are not mixed-income by developer choice, but by zoning; both London and New York have strong (some might say overly strong) inclusionary-zoning laws.  Not by coincidence, they also have strong anti-development NIMBYite policies, so that if developers want to develop – and sharks gotta swim, bats gotta fly – then they must acquiesce to the inclusionary zoning and make the numbers work if they can.  For this, the best locations require the highest sale prices, which means the richest potential buyers, and as both London and New York are global bolt holes for capital, that means appealing to foreigners seeking a landing pad:

In common with many of London’s new concrete and glass residential blocks there’s a concierge, on hand 24/7 to service the every need of residents paying a minimum of £500,000 – which only buys a studio flat – to live in this booming part of the city.

While accurate, that statement reverses the causality: that part of the city is booming because it attracts richer residents, not the other way around.

Even bicycle storage spaces, rubbish disposal facilities and postal deliveries are being separated.

Imagine having one’s bicycle storage spaces kept apart; why, these beloved two-wheeled pets have feelings too.


You’re not coming back inside until you apologize to the unicycle

The Green party accused developers of showing “contempt for ordinary people” by enforcing such two-tier policies.

As there’s no profit to be made in contempt, I doubt the developers would invest the energy to have contempt.


There’s no money to be made in it

This does not just happen where there are large numbers of affordable homes on a site. In Chiswick, The Corner Haus development which is to be completed this summer, has just two affordable units [Out of 14 – Ed.], but these are also expected to have a separate entrance.

Perhaps inspired by the Guardian’s example, Slate went fully over the top.

The new housing units in question are designed to offer tax breaks to developers in exchange for the token gesture of including some subsidized housing in the mix in a world of rising income inequality and increasingly populated world capitals short on affordable housing stock.

Token gestures don’t cost money – building 55 apartments whose capitalized value is well below their cost does.


Tokin’ gestures cost money

Green party London assembly member Darren Johnson said: “This trend shows contempt for ordinary people” –


Johnson is contemptuous of people who feel contempt for ordinary people

– “and is about developers selling luxury flats to rich investors who don’t want to mix with local people.”

Somehow the journalists’ outrage is greater when the public is getting something ‘for free’ (that is, no tax money spent on the benefit) than when it is a direct appropriation or development program. 

James Moody, managing director of Redrow London, which built One Commercial Street said in a statement that his firm was committed to providing homes “at all financial levels” and that 34% of the total accommodation in the building was affordable.


Moody could afford to make one-third affordable

“As One Commercial Street is located on the edge of the City, we have built a product that appeals to this market of young professionals and families who want to live close to their place of work and enjoy the benefits of a full concierge service and hotel style lobby, for which they pay a premium through their service charge.”

Later in the post I’ll return to the service-charge issue.

Through the main door of One Commercial Street the lights shine brightly in the hotel-style lobby. There is luxury marble tiling and plush sofas, and a sign on the door alerts residents to the fact that the concierge is available. Round the back, the entrance to the affordable homes is a cream corridor, decorated only with grey mail boxes and a poster warning tenants that they are on CCTV and will be prosecuted if they cause any damage.

One Commercial Street development

One Commercial Street: showing the inside of one entrance, the outside of the other

[Social housing tenant] Judy Brown had expected to be able to get to her flat through the main entrance. “I call it the posh door. I feel a little bit insulted. It’s segregation.”

On the other hand, perhaps Ms. Brown thought of it as segregation because she was prompted to consider it that way. 

Yes, the design [NB of 40 Riverside in New York – Ed.] necessitated having two entrances. Nothing new there: many buildings around town, commercial and residential, have separate entrances for different users.

For instance, mixed-use properties with offices, hotels, and residential will often have separate elevator banks, and nearly as often separate front doors, if only to provide appropriate gatekeeper/ concierge choices, though this is less true when a property is purely residential.  Nevertheless, for Slate it is all about the symbolism:

The poor door is a clumsy, undemocratic, mean-spirited design solution to an underlying social problem. Those who are lucky enough to qualify for affordable housing don’t need the dignity-crushing daily reminder that they haven’t earned the right to rub shoulders with their very own neighbors.


This kind of dignity crushing reminder?

[Continued tomorrow in Part 3.]

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Poor poor pitiful door: Part 1, Sudden unmasking

September 12, 2014 | Apartments, Condominiums, Development, Discrimination, Economics, GAIA, Housing, Inclusionary zoning, Journalism, Linkage, London, Markets, New York City, Rental | No comments 126 views

By: David A. Smith

Griffin Mill: It lacked certain elements that we need to market a film successfully.
June: What elements?
Griffin Mill: Suspense, laughter, violence. Hope, heart, nudity, sex. Happy endings. Mainly happy endings.
June: What about reality?

The Player (1992)

Reality doesn’t sell newspapers

For newspapermen, there must always be column-inches even if there is too little news to justify them, and it is in the long slow days of summer, when the chattering classes are on their island or woodland vacations, that there appear the Summer Stories, which invariably have the following journalistic elements:

A God-Ain’t-It-Awful (GAIA) story

Relevant features

·         Shelf life.  The issue’s been going on for some time, so it can be discovered whenever space is needed.

·         No immediate change possible, so the reader need only deplore, not act.

·         Obvious bad guys, preferably those who do not advertise in our paper: rich people, corporations, and rich foreigners are often good ones.

·         Good guys who are ‘like us’, or people that we want to think are like us. 

·         Anecdotes and pictures, not numbers, because numeracy doesn’t sell paper.

·         Easy to condemn.  Journalists are good at condemning things, not so good at proposing viable solutions.

·         Tweet-friendly.  A subject where the less the reader knows, the worse it sounds.

I call them GAIA stories: God, Ain’t It Awful. 


Ain’t it awful?

A Guardian investigation has discovered a growing trend in the capital’s upmarket apartment blocks – which are required to include affordable homes in order to win planning permission – for the poorer residents to be forced to use alternative access, a phenomenon being dubbed “poor doors”.

In media terms, the name ‘poor door’ is inspired – it’s short, catchy, descriptive, and normative – perfect for a summer GAIA story.


A GAIA story must always have a judgmental lead:

Even as so many crises roiled the world recently, the news that a development on the Upper West Side of Manhattan would proceed with a brand of distasteful social engineering still managed to command international attention.

So, Mister Mayor, what are you going to do about it?


I’m gonna make progress, of course

Sources used in this post

Steve Cuozzo, New York Post (August 27, 2013, a year ago; brown font)

The Guardian (July 25, 2014; black font)

New York Times (Ginia Bellafante; July 25, 2014; blue font)

Slate (July 29, 2014; slate-gray font)

New York Post (July 28, 2014; green font)

For New Yorkers, few subjects are more reliable for summer GAIA stories than residential real estate, because everybody lives somewhere, everybody thinks they’re paying too much, and everybody wishes somebody would do something about something.


That’s how to sell papers

A. The sudden unmasking of ‘poor doors’ in mixed-income properties

[Of course, New York’s housing is so expensive because New York’s development and regulatory ecosystem is thoroughly dysfunctional and deeply entrenched. – Ed.]


You want genuine reform?  Then come and get it!

The mayors of New York City and London are currently caught up in a social and design controversy that has touched nerves on both sides of the Atlantic: the practice of building separate entrances for poorer residents of new inner-city housing units.

[It’s a measure of just how much perceptions have changed that ‘inner-city’, which used to be a code word for ‘dangerous minority neighborhood’ now is read to mean ‘hot redevelopment area.’ – Ed.]

Slate went to town on the purple prose.

It’s too late to correct what is seen by many as a distasteful, possibly sinister [Possibly sinister? – Ed.]


Bar Sinister? Never

– social blunder on Riverside Boulevard.

GAIA stories, with their emphasis on a fast-splash across the headlines, are the natural output of broadsheet journalism, whereas blogs, unbeholden to city desk editors and circulation managers, can go as deeply as they choose into subjects as arcane as may interest their obsessive author.  So take a deep breath (or plan on coming back for subsequent installments), because there is actually quite a lot to say.


We’re going exploring as long as you have breath

When housing markets superheat, land values skyrocket (especially those where the current property is vertically obsolete), and the combination enables progressive urban governments to deflect some of that rising land value into affordable housing through inclusionary zoning or linkage payments – and then the issues arise.

“Separate entrances doesn’t sound good,” acknowledges Gary Barett, president of Extell [Developer of 40 Riverside – Ed.]. In fact, demagogues can use the words to draw an insidious, and absurd, parallel to the racist old South.


Instinctively unfair, at least to modern eyes

Equality of opportunity is so deeply embedded in modern American consciousness that ‘separate but equal’ is reflexively called discriminatory, but what about unequal?  Must they be integrated … in private property?

This seemed to provide more evidence that living in Manhattan has become increasingly like a flight to Houston in which one is made to board in Zone 4 and eat only stale pretzels.

[Oh, the horror, the horror of having to board with the ordinary people. – Ed.]


Zone 4 boarding … the horror …Zone 4

In Manhattan, the New York Times reports on the Extell Development project on the Upper West Side at 40 Riverside Blvd., which won permission to build separate entrances that will keep its lower-income apartments neatly segregated from its market-rate condominiums thanks to a Bloomberg-era zoning law.


Is she gone yet?  Extell’s Gary Barnett

As that original New York Times article was insufficiently simplistic for the Guardian’s author Hilary Osborne, she helpfully provided her GAIA gloss:

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he is in favor of banning the practice going forward (even if he voted for it as a councilman), vowing to reverse the zoning laws that made it possible in his effort to increase affordable housing in Manhattan.

Later in the post I’ll return to the curious recursive logic in seeking to increase affordable housing by reversing the zoning laws that made possible of new affordable housing in super-hot locations.  For now, watch the politicians spinning like tops:


In reality, thins wobble, don’t they, Mayor de Blasio?

Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials denouncing “poor door” entrances for subsidized tenants in luxury buildings actually voted in favor of a measure that made such separation possible, a Post review found.

When the lengthy text of a zoning resolution was amended by the City Council in July 2009, then-Councilman de Blasio — who arrived late to the meeting — was among the majority who voted “Aye.”


I voted yes but I didn’t know everything that was in it

Though this was a cheap shot by the Post – the legislation was a 104-page zoning change – the Post’s tactic became justified by the mayor’s spokesperson’s reflexive/ deflective response:


I follow the cat’s honor code

The previous administration changed the law to enable this kind of development,” City Hall spokesman Wiley Norvell said last week.

Ooh, it was that evil previous administration which clouded Mr. de Blasio’s mind into voting Yes.


Vote yes, or else

[Continued next week in Part 2.]

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