Stephen Colbert: “…poor doors are just the latest in a trend that helps us haves not have to
see the have-nots. I mean, we haves get skyboxes instead of bleachers, personal shoppers
instead of going to a store, and at airports, first class has its own TSA lane.
“I mean, even the Happiest Place on Earth is happier for us, because we can pay up
to an extra $500 an hour to skip to the front of lines at Disney World.”
Twenty years ago, I was working in a 100-bed homeless shelter in South London. The charity I worked for had an ethos that we should meet the needs of mind and body, so the homeless shelter shared an entranceway with an upscale gym. The building also hosted a for-profit hotel that shared the same entranceway. I won’t say that there were never any issues. We did have shelter clients who had addiction and mental health issues that infrequently impacted the hotel and gym users and staff. But simple boundaries and empathy on all sides meant that the entrance was safe and welcoming for everyone.
Then there are so-called ‘poor doors’. ‘Poor doors’ are separate entrances that are being utilized by some developers when they are required to include social, low-market or subsidized housing to get re-zoning or planning permission; one door for subsidized housing and a different door for the market units. This has recently come into the news in the West End, Vancouver, for an approved development with 82 market strata units and 39 social housing units. The development will have separate entrances and separate lobbies. It did include separate play areas for the children of the two groups of residents. These plans were revised due to the public backlash.
‘Poor doors’ exist everywhere from Hawaii to London. These separated entrances are often around the back, in alleyways or near loading bays. They’ve popped up in Toronto before.
And the concept isn’t new. A town called Cutteslow in the UK erected spike-tipped walls in the 1930s to separate market houses from the local Council (social) housing. Poor doors are banned in New York where the Mayor Bill De Blasio legislated to stop developers from having separate entrances for different residents. Former London Mayor Boris Johnson, said he didn’t like them but fell short of calling for a ban. Possibly unsurprising given his background at Eton College and Oxford University. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is certainly more likely to be using the front door.
Aside from the instinctual negative reaction to the idea of separating people living in the same place by income level, there are also implications for inclusivity in general. Division by income correlates with ivisions along ethnic and family make-up lines, as people who identify as a visible minority statistically have lower incomes. Single parent families also tend towards lower incomes. The front entrance will be more likely used by Caucasian people and the back door may have more Black and Aboriginal entrants. Diverse communities tend to be more tolerant. Just moving to a street that is more diverse makes people more tolerant and less racist. Having daily interactions with people makes us more positive about them. Now think back to that segregated playground.
So, what is the justification for this practice? Some developers point out that the market side of these developments include high-end services and amenities such as fancy lobbies, concierge services and nice gyms. Social housing providers and their residents may not be able to pay for these amenities, which may create a different feeling of ‘unfairness’ in the building. The social housing providers and residents can’t pay, the developer won’t (and can’t pay ongoing service charges), and the market residents shouldn’t have to ‘cover’ other residents. Forcing the developer to pay for the lion’s share only works if there are massive profits involved. Legislation must work in the lean times as well as booms. Developers also say that the presence of social housing will lower the value of the market-valued units. They also argue a difference in need. Social housing residents may want shared laundry facilities because they don’t have them in-suite. Market residents won’t need that. Separating the lobbies makes separating services easier.
What can be done to promote inclusivity and diversity without the financial and practical issues getting in the way? If we discourage poor doors, how do we mitigate the issues?
- If all market developments have social housing inclusion and inclusive lobbies, there should be no effect on the market. Especially as this becomes an expectation; diverse communities.
- Levy amenity costs equally or provide an ‘opt-in/opt-out’ option for residents. Social housing providers can choose to include these amenities into their budget.
- Separate the services that need to be separated. The social housing residents don’t have to be charged to use the concierge system, the gym or the parking. Have these be a separate charge based on use or apartment number.
- Use innovative design and technology. People tend to use facilities that are ‘in their way’. Locate the laundry near the social housing and the gym near the market housing. Use key cards for differing services.
- Entrances don’t have to be separated.