Affordable Housing and Separate Entrances

Rarely does an affordable housing issue capture national attention, but everyone from Comedian Stephen Colbert to the Boston Globe editorial board to the Onion has weighed in on a New York City mixed-income housing project criticized for its so-called “poor door” policy.

Extell Development is proposing to build market-rate condominiums on the Upper West Side of Manhattan under the City’s Inclusionary Housing Program, which allows developers to build larger projects if they provide low-income housing. While many developers use the increased floor area generated by the inclusionary program to construct affordable housing off-site, Extell’s new development will include 55 rental units affordable to households with incomes at or below 60% of the area median income in addition to 219 market-rate luxury condos on one site. The affordable units will have initial rents set at $883 per month for the 10 studios, $895 for the 15 one-bedrooms and $1082 for the 30 two-bedrooms and will be subject to rent stabilization. According to Extell’s president, the market-rate condos will sell for somewhere around $1000 per square foot. The controversy stems from the developer’s plan to group all of the affordable units in the building on the 3rd through 7th floors of the 33-story tower, with a separate entrance for the affordable tenants.

Extell maintains that it complied with all existing zoning laws, while De Blasio Administration officials note that the zoning resolution amendments allowing this type of construction arrangement were passed in 2009 under Mayor Bloomberg. New York City politicians from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer to Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen have gone on record vowing to reverse the zoning resolution provisions. Under the current zoning resolution, the affordable units are in what is termed a “building segment,” a part of a building with two or more contiguous portions having separate residential entrances serving only those units within such portion. Extell issued a clarification that the separate entrance will not open into a back alley, as some media outlets are reporting, but onto 62nd Street, similar to an adjacent luxury building’s entrance.

Meanwhile in Washington, DC, the redevelopment of a 48-unit Section 8 property into a 366-unit mixed income complex in the bustling corridor of U Street is proceeding with plans to have separate entrances for the existing affordable tenants and the new market-rate tenants. With the blessing of the tenant association president, the plans for the redevelopment of Portner Place include separate wings for the affordable and market tenants, a request by tenants to maintain the “family-oriented” character of the existing property.