Taking the Poor Door to Extremes in London

ACORN International Citizen Wealth Financial Justice International

Tower-Hamlets-20140820-01167Warren, Arkansas       Recently we discussed the potential evolution of the so-called “poor door” housing programs implemented by developers trying to segregate one-percenters from affordable housing units in their complexes in New York City.  I warned that Mumbai offered a potential case study in how such lack of integration could lead to rebuilding substandard housing next door to marble façade high rises in the name of slum renewal.  Now that ACORN is organizing in London it didn’t take a New York minute for me to hear from one of our organizers there that London has already doubled the ante in developing poor doors and housing segregation.

            The Guardian jumped on the “poor door” issues over the last several months, finding cases as extreme as the entrances to affordable housing units in poorly lit back alleys back by the garbage cans.  The segregation is complete down to the bike racks, postal boxes, and of course separate rubbish bins, as they call them there.

            Developers, required to have such units, go to slick extremes in making their cases for segregation from these reports.  Some lay the blame on the fact that there are separate housing associations that manage the joint tenancy for the affordable units, and claim these housing units “demand” separate entrances so that common space fees are less.  One developer made a flat statement, unsubstantiated from what I could tell, that allowing the poorer tenants to enter through the front doors and fancier lobbies would amount to “cross subsidization,” whatever that might be, and “was illegal.”  Clearly, that’s a ludicrous statement on its face.

            In Mumbai I mentioned how elevators were frequently shoddy and unusable so quickly evolved into giant vertical garbage receptacles.  Well, in London, same-same, almost.  Tenants in some of the segregated housing talked about regular breakdowns of their “lifts,” leaving them with a nine-story walk-up climb to their units.  Hey, let’s be fair, Judy Brown, the tenant who walked up nine stories to her flat was quoted in the Guardian also saying that they had told her,

“When both the lifts weren’t working they did say that if you were pregnant, had a health problem or a baby in a buggy you could use the main entrance,” she said. Otherwise, the tenants said, they were “locked out” of the main lobby.

How big hearted can they be, huh?

            On the good side in London any new development is required to provide a portion of affordable units, as opposed to the voluntary program in New York City and the non-existent program in many other cities still at the beck and call of any developer with a line-of-credit and the willingness to make a political contribution.

            Though it’s also clear that the developers in London have the whip hand as well, and see the requirement to provide affordable units as the start of negotiations, not as a prerequisite, even to the extent of blaming the victims, the very poorer tenants they are forced to accommodate for their own segregation:

“…developers are obliged to provide a set proportion of affordable homes when they draw up a new project, but they are often able to negotiate this figure down with local planners. Some provide the cheaper homes in separate blocks, but in a single structure development the affordable homes are often on separate floors – with separate entrances, lifts, car parks and even rubbish bins, so that upmarket apartment buyers have no contact with those occupying the social housing in their buildings.  In some cases, developers have even used the fact they need to provide separate doors and lifts to argue against putting affordable homes on the same site as their premium apartments. Planning documents for the 56 Curzon Street development in Mayfair show that the developers told the local council “that on-site provision of affordable housing would result in significant design inefficiencies due to the need for separate entrances and building cores”.

            Mayor De Blasio of New York City is committed to breaking down the poor doors.  Mayor Boris Johnson of London, frequently mentioned as an outside shot to replace David Cameron as Conservative prime minister material says poor doors are hunky-dorky with him.

            Sounds like we can keep our eyes on London to see an evolving case study on how this residential segregation of the rich from the poor accelerates the path to Mumbai and economic apartheid.