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Another Two-Door Policy: Haven’t We Been Here Before?

Another Two-Door Policy: Haven’t We Been Here Before?

You’ve probably heard by now the uproar over the “poor door” being built into a  luxury condominium building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side – it’s the designated entrance for the building’s “lower-income” residents. Having a design that included affordable housing units for those residents allowed the developers to receive a substantial tax break from the city and the approval to construct a building with an even larger footprint. Senior Program Director Bonnie Gordon responds with her thoughts on equity, courage, and her experience with an earlier two-door policy.

As my career in college administration advanced in the early 80s, I was included in meetings hosted by our board members at the Harvard and Yale clubs, among others in NYC. It was unusual in those days to see women at the clubs as members, and I remember more than one occasion when the then-all-male desk staff made clear their disdain for me and other young women on the college staff, signaling in tone and attitude that they were only tolerating us because of our connection to a member. On the one hand, we were appreciative of our board members making space available for these important meetings. On the other hand, it was irritating to be treated that way.

The environment was even more explicitly hostile toward women at New York’s University Club, where women had to use a separate door to enter and were confined to certain areas of the building. Here again, I remember being snapped at more than once by an eagle-eyed staff member, eager to keep me from intruding in some way on one of the most elite man-caves of its time. It was embarrassing and humiliating to be treated as a second-class citizen, and I still get angry thinking about that door in particular, even though it has been some years now since the University Club, like others, was forced to open all of its doors to women.

Plans for a city-endorsed and subsidized “poor door” at a new apartment building in New York are beyond outrageous, and demonstrate in crystal clear terms ways in which arrogance, thoughtlessness, and general disregard for others have overcome the values inscribed below the outstretched arms of our Statue of Liberty. I'm surprised she's still standing. How much more hypocritical can we stand to be as we send sons and daughters to fight and die for the rights of others when we so casually disregard the rights of our neighbors to live with dignity.

At MDC, we work with communities and organizations willing to enter courageous conversations about the role that race, class, gender, and power have played in the allocation of resources and opportunity. Long time habits and practices that carry the effect, if not the intent, of exclusion are examined, unpacked, and, if we do our work well, refashioned into an environment where, as one organizational leader put it so eloquently, “mutual regard is prized.” A “poor door” signals an explicit intent to exclude and devalue people. Where’s the courage in that?