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Op-Ed: Why Cities Need the 'Poor Door'

Drawing on a distinction between equality and equity, Rick Jacobus argues that so-called 'poor doors' are a necessary compromise to promote affordable housing and neighborhood integration.
October 29, 2015, 5am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Having chosen to include affordable units in new project, some developers infamously provide separate entrances for the subsidized residents. "New York had been allowing this practice for years and the Times had even criticized it previously, but the phrase 'poor door’ captured the public imagination and reminded many of segregation in the Jim Crow South."

While the practice makes us squeamish, poor doors are often a misleading label. From the article: "They built a six-story [affordable] rental building immediately next to their 43-story luxury tower. What is odd about this project is not that it has two doors, but that it is considered one building at all."

More fundamentally, poor doors might be the price we pay to integrate neighborhoods. "The benefits of integration come from locating in opportunity-rich, healthier, and safer neighborhoods and not from direct social interaction with higher-income neighbors."

Jacobus points to the irony of fighting poor doors when the other option is to segregate the poor in vast under-served neighborhoods, out of sight and out of mind. "Real and meaningful economic integration will necessarily be uncomfortable. Some people will have more of everything and when we live together that difference will be awkward. To me, the 'poor door' controversy is all about avoiding that awkwardness."

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Published on Wednesday, October 14, 2015 in Rooflines
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