Build the affordable housing in L.A., but leave out the 'poor doors'

An unacceptable affordable-housing trade-off: Separate entrances for the rich and the poor

The Los Angeles region desperately needs housing for people with moderate and low incomes. To that end, many local jurisdictions either mandate that developers include affordable, below-market-rate rentals in new residential projects or, if no mandate is in place, negotiate with them to do so. It’s good policy to encourage affordable housing, and it’s particularly good when the affordable units are mixed in with market-rate units in the same building.

What’s not good: Assigning residents of below-market units to a separate entrance in the building, as the developers of a controversial West Hollywood project initially proposed doing. So-called poor doors are offensive and smack of segregation. They seem to arise from a noxious notion on the part of developers that more affluent residents will feel their standard of living is compromised if they have to share their lobby with people of a different social class.

Housing officials in West Hollywood — a city that was built on an agenda of protecting gay rights and tenants’ rights — were quick to nix the proposal for separate entrances at 8899 Beverly Boulevard. They also criticized the plan to make the pool off-limits to below-market-rate renters. In response, the developers agreed to open all entrances and amenities to all residents if the project is ultimately approved.

Good for West Hollywood; its officials took a stand for fairness. But this troubling trend has cropped up elsewhere. A building under construction in New York that separates the entrance for condo dwellers from the one for affordable unit renters has drawn fire from officials. In London, some new developments have separate entrances for affordable units. Such physical distinctions are degrading to lower-income residents and drive an additional, unnecessary wedge between richer and poorer people.

Certainly, it’s a challenge for developers to meet the demands of inclusionary housing laws, keep upscale buyers happy and remain profitable too. West Hollywood has an inclusionary law that generally requires developers of new residential projects to price 20% of the units at levels that lower and moderate income residents can afford.

The city of Los Angeles does not have an inclusionary law. However, when a developer does agree to include low-income and moderate-income housing — generally in return for being allowed to build more units on the project lot — there are guidelines: Affordable units need to be roughly the same size as comparable market-rate ones; building amenities should be shared; the lower-priced units may not be “clustered” apart from the other units.

Of course, projects will vary and municipalities have to judge them on a case-by-case basis. But it doesn’t seem like too much to ask that all doors be open to all residents.

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