Archive for Sunday, August 3, 2014

Opinion: ‘Poor door’ a symbol of sad truth

August 3, 2014

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A few words about the “poor door.”

Maybe you already know about this. Maybe you read on Slate, saw on Colbert or heard on NPR how a developer qualified for tax benefits under New York City’s Inclusionary Housing Program by agreeing to add to its new luxury building on the Upper West Side a set number of “affordable” apartments. How the company won permission to build that building with two entrances, one in front for the exclusive use of upper-income residents, another, reportedly in the alley, for residents of more modest means.

Hence, the “poor door,” though the term is something of a misnomer. While the premium units with the Hudson River views would probably strain the average budget at a reported sale price of $2,000 a square foot, the 55 “affordable” apartments overlooking the street are not exactly priced for the family from “Good Times.” We are told they are expected to draw small families earning up to $51,000 a year — not enough to contemplate putting in a bid for the Knicks, but more than enough to ensure you don’t have to squeegee windshields for pocket change.

Anyway, Extell Development apparently thinks it too much to ask the well-heeled to use the same door as such relative paupers. Observers have responded with outrage. A New York Times pundit called it “odious.” CNN called it “income segregation.” The Christian Science Monitor called it “Dickensian.”

The door is all those things, yes, but it is also the pointed symbol of a truth we all know but pretend not to, so as to preserve the fiction of an egalitarian society. Namely, that rich and poor already have different doors. The rich enter the halls of justice, finance, education, health and politics through portals of advantage from which the rest of us are barred.

Politicians who send you form letters line up to kiss Sheldon Adelson’s pinky finger because he has access to that door. O.J. Simpson got away with murder because he had access to that door.

Over the years, I’ve met a number of wealthy people. I have envied exactly one: Tom Cousins, the Atlanta developer who founded the East Lake Foundation, a combination social experiment and real estate development that transfigured a blighted and impoverished community, raising test scores, banishing crime, lifting incomes, changing lives.

I envied him not his money, but the privilege he has had of using that money in the service of other people. What joy and satisfaction it must give to know your wealth has made a difference in the world.

The “poor door” reflects a different ideal. Unfortunately, this is the same ideal one too frequently sees reflected in the nation at large. In our elevation of the do-nothing-of-value, contribute-nothing-of-value, say-nothing-of-value likes of Paris Hilton and Donald Trump to the highest station our culture offers — celebrity — we betray not simply a worship of wealth for its own sake, but an implicit belief that net worth equals human worth. And it does not.

It’s only money. Money is neutral. It’s what one does with money that defines character.

I begrudge no one whatever luxuries fortune makes possible. Enjoy the French chalet if it makes you feel good and the wallet allows. But the poor door seems to me a bridge too far. Were I as rich as Bill Gates plus the Koch brothers multiplied by Oprah Winfrey, I don’t think I’d want to live in a building of separate but unequal access, a building built on the tacit assumption that I would be — or should be — mortally affronted at sharing a lobby with someone just because he had fewer material trinkets than I.

The very idea offends our common and interconnected humanity. In the final analysis, we all entered this life through the same door. And we’ll leave it that way, too.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Comments

John Yocum 12 months ago

Excellent piece. When I heard about this possibly happening, I just couldn't believe someone could even propose such a thing. Sad.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 12 months ago

This is the best commentary about this story I have seen. I've seen people commenting that the "poor" people should just be glad they have a place to live. This is just like the executive crew that almost ran GM into the ground when they had the executive elevator installed, so they wouldn't have to mingle with the riffraff. There is something wrong with people like that. And the next time someone tells me we live in a classless society, I'm going to say "Oh you mean class as in good taste, not class as in status".

John Graham 12 months ago

This is actually more reasonable than having a VIP entrance and seating at a restaurant, theatre or club for those deemed "special" such as a celebrity or local politician yet are paying the same for the service they receive. First class ticket holders pay to be treated different on airlines. I have seen some airlines with wide body jumbos that have multiple entrance doors that first class has their own entrance separate from coach. It has not been uncommon for several years that owners of penthouse apartments may have their own separate elevators. People that are paying the premium prices expect to be treated different. The high end apartment owners paid substantially more that the others so they want different treatment, so what, they paid for it. This makes more sense that the world treating people like the Kardashians as special even when they aren't paying for any special treatment.

Lawrence Morgan 12 months ago

This is no different than the reporting of news, particularly from the Journal-World.

For example, my current blogs report on the African Summit in Washington, D.C. This could be of importance to many people. But instead of being on this page, it is further back - many more clicks away, so that most people never even see personal blogs-because it is so far from the front page of the web site. Most citizens have stopped writing blogs altogether, compared to when Dennis Anderson was in charge. At one time, the Journal World was a leader in citizen journalism - but not any more.

In effect, the Journal-World is biased against blogs and especially minorities. There were many things that I have reported on - for example, graduation of students at the University of the Gambia in Africa, the African summit currently taking place at the White House - but the Journal-World is not interested in areas of minority interest, or they would put personal blogs where everyone could see them when they first opened the web page.

You would think that the Journal-World would be interested in events taking place in other parts of the world - but THEY ARE NOT.

Poor people and minorities always get the "poor door" from newspapers like the Journal-World - and this is the case in the media as well as building houses or separation of neighborhoods (such as has happened over the past 80 years in Kansas City, for example).

Last year, I asked the Journal-World whether any of their staff were veterans (as I am). Their response was very vague - they "didn't know" for sure. I asked them whether they hired minority people as reporters - and I never got an answer.

If people don't read about minority issues, they assume that having the rich door and the poor door are fine - but they aren't. "Out of sight, out of mind." But that is just fine for the Journal World staff.

I will ask again: why don't you put citizen blogs where they can be easily accessed and read?

How many of your reporting staff are minorities?

How many are veterans?

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