The Real Deal New York

How common are NYC’s poor doors?: PHOTOS

Extell’s two-entrance building far from unique, but the devil is in the details

August 27, 2013 02:30PM
By Julie Strickland

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Extell Development sparked a ferocious backlash — and viral sensation — when it revealed that its new 33-story 40 Riverside Drive would have two separate entrances: one for condominium buyers and one for tenants in affordable rental units.

The so-called poor door, to be sure, is not the only politically incorrect entrance of its kind in New York City. But just how common is the phenomenon in buildings that house a mix of market-rate condos, market-rate rentals and/or affordable rental units?

It seems that only a handful of similar poor doors exist across the city, including 40 Riverside Boulevard and 1 Northside Piers in Williamsburg, according to brokers and developers who spoke with The Real Deal. But the devil, it seems, is often in the details. Some large buildings, such as 200 East 94th, appear to have a “poor door,” but in fact have two entrances that are open to renters and owners alike.

Toll Brothers’ 1 Northside Piers, for instance, includes 134 affordable rental units, allowing the developer to offer 421a tax abatements to buyers in both 1 and 2 Northside Piers. The affordable units are located in the base of the tower at 4 North 5th Street, and the tower itself is not accessible from that part of the building. And while No. 1 shares a common wall with No. 2, the two are technically separate entities. At Douglaston Development’s the Edge in Williamsburg, middle-income residents cannot use building amenities – a common setup in mixed-income buildings.

The goal with changes to the 421a program, which rewarded developers with 10 to 25 years of tax abatements for the inclusion of affordable rental units — which were often passed on to the condo buyers – was to nudge developers to include affordable dwellings in their developments, rather than off-site, some say. And while that goal to create affordable housing is bringing below-market units to neighborhoods all over the city, it does not always guarantee that everyone will fully mix.

“No one ever said that the goal was full integration of these populations,” said David Von Spreckelsen, senior vice president at Toll Brothers. “So now you have politicians talking about that, 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, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.”

Mayoral candidate and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn responded to the 40 Riverside Boulevard backlash by calling for the state to intervene in Extell’s controversial plan.

“I do not believe that these discriminatory practices were ever contemplated by the legislature,” Quinn told the New York Post. “We need to change state law so that developers [eligible for the exemption] provide common entrances and facilities for residents of the building.”

Greenpoint Landing, Joseph Chetrit and David Bistricer’s 300,000-square-foot luxury project at 77 Commercial Street that would include 200 cheaper units, is also drawing community ire for a prospective “poor door.” Treading lightly in the wake of Extell’s 40 Riverside firestorm, the developers insist they have yet to make a final call on segregated entryways.

Despite the controversy separate entrances can ignite, some say the arrangement is a logical one. Affordable housing and market-rate rentals or condos are different types of products, some real estate professionals argue, that beget a different set of expectations.

For others, the seamless integration of differently-priced units makes far more marketing sense.

“I don’t see those [affordable] units having an impact on the market-rate units,” said Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of appraisal firm Miller Samuel. “The blending of the unit types, if anything, makes the difference between the rents being paid by one group versus another somewhat seamless.”

Some mixed-income properties do indeed take that approach, such as the Related Companies’ 89 Murray in Tribeca, a 163-unit, 50/30/20 property.

“That building has one entrance,” said Jeffrey Sussman, executive vice president of Edward Minskoff Equities, “no differentiation among the people or anything like that.”