Politics Magazine

Poor Doors: Segregation Made Classy

Posted on the 26 July 2014 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

When news reached Americans that a new upmarket apartment block in New York would have a separate entrance for inhabitants of its social housing units, there was uproar. These “poor doors” were seen as an unnecessary humiliation for those on low incomes. The Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio (an unusually left-leaning Democrat) promised swift action to prevent the policy being implemented in any other housing developments.

Britain is, generally speaking, kinder to its ‘lower classes’ than the US. That is why many people will be shocked when they read a Guardian report on the proliferation of poor doors in London. Most of the public would consider poor doors not only an affront to good manners, but rather tacky as well. In polite society, the only respectable means of flaunting one’s wealth (insofar as that is not a contradiction in terms) is to do so in an modest, understated way. I can imagine that ‘rich door’ developments appeal to the sort of millionaire who buys diamond-encrusted smartphones and rings with rubies the size of hubcaps. Tackiness, as I say,


Supposedly, there is more to justify poor doors in these developments other than preventing wealthy residents having to endure the sight of people on incomes beneath six figures. (But, to be fair, the plebs do smell, don’t they?) After all, members of the elite have to interact with waiters, shop assistants and suchlike on a daily basis. No, additional features like concierges, swimming pools and hotel-style lobbies have become fashionable in upmarket developments, and social housing tenants are denied access to these in order to save them the service charge.

That’s the official explanation, which I shall consider shortly. Unofficially, the absence of interaction between the ‘social strata’ is advertised as a selling point to wealthy would-be residents. In London, it is difficult for housing developers to avoid the mixing of their open market and the social housing units they are obliged to build alongside them. So their response is the poor door. I’m sure many rich home-buyers are put off by the tastelessness of the policy, but clearly there is sufficient demand anyway. As for the social housing tenants; they have little choice in the matter. Those who reach the top of comically long housing waiting lists may often only decline one or two properties allocated to them by their council, or they risk being struck off the list altogether. Having to use a poor door becomes a trivial concern.

Whilst it is true that social housing residents cannot afford the service charges that accompany the upkeep of upmarket lobbies and concierges, I don’t see segregated entrances as a proportionate solution. If developers can come up with a creative solution (they are paid to devise creative solutions) to provide unnecessary extras to those who want and are able to pay for them, that’s fine. Poor doors, however, are not fine. If developers cannot devise an alternative, then unfortunately London’s millionaires shall have to live without a 24-hour concierge service.

It is important to remember that these poor doors are not only separate, but unequal to the “rich doors”. Almost invariably, the poor doors are located in dimly lit alleys alongside bins or commercial goods entrances, whereas rich doors have accessible street entrances. Moreover, even the doors themselves look different. The Independent reports the case of one development “the affordable [housing] has vile coloured plastic panels on the outside rather than blingy glass.”

As if this were not sufficient demonstration of the perceived inferiority of social housing residents, everything from the corridors to refuse collections to postal deliveries tend to be segregated too. This blatantly and inexcusably eliminates any prospect of affluent and less affluent neighbours coming into contact at all, which is hardly conducive to community cohesion. And the Establishment wonder why there are periodic riots. Many social scientists maintain that mixed tenure housing developments, hosting communities in which all social classes interact to the greatest possible extent, are the key to mutual understanding and respect. A pity nobody is heeding their advice.

A Chinese ambassador once visited the Khmer Empire at the end of the 13th century, and reported with a sense of wonder the treatment of slaves there. It was extreme even by medieval standards. He wrote:

They are permitted to lie down or be seated only beneath the floor of the house. To perform their tasks they may go upstairs, but only after they have knelt, bowed to the ground and joined their hands in reverence.

The snubbing of social housing residents is perhaps not quite as extreme. But you do wonder if those inflicting poor doors on London would feel it reasonable to demand similar ‘reverence’ from the second class people, who are grudgingly tolerated in these developments!

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