Dallas May Have Issues with Segregation, but at Least We Don't Have Poor Doors Yet

How can I devote so many words here to housing discrimination in Dallas and not even mention poor doors in Manhattan? I can't, even though I'm still not sure exactly what New York poor doors teach us. Maybe the lesson is just that pompous posturing assholes with thinly defended egos are not a regional phenomenon.

The New York Post reported last month that the city had approved plans for a residential tower on Manhattan's Upper West Side to include a separate "poor door" for people living in subsidized "affordable" apartments in the building, so they wouldn't be walking in and out with the rich people. The New York Times chased the story a couple days ago with a longer and more nuanced report.

Apparently poor doors have been around in New York for a while, but the building at 40 Riverside Drive, overlooking the Hudson River (if you're a rich tenant) happened to have the bad luck of catching some reporter's eye. In fact poor doors are not unique to New York. Some cities think they're OK, some do not. This month the plan commission in West Hollywood, California, shot down a project that was to include a separate door for poor people, because ... well, to paraphrase, they thought it was gross. Or, as one West Hollywood resident told a reporter, "Wow, New York is bad."

Before I ride around on my high horse too much, I should mention again that Dallas right now is the target of what some parties are calling the biggest racial segregation complaint in the history of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (climbing off horse as we speak). The HUD complaint against Dallas includes a charge that the Atmos project at the east end of downtown doesn't just include a poor door, it includes a separate racially and economically segregated building (shooting horse now).

So it's not like I'm here to brag. But I do have to say this in our defense as a city: at least when we segregate, we have the good sense to lie about it, indicating some small measure of shame, not to mention a vestigial sense of right and wrong.

See also: Ignore All the Smoke Around HUD's Case Against Dallas and See Something Ugly in the Mirror

In New York they tell the poor people they're lucky to have a door. The New York Observer has a piece up now arguing that doors don't make people unequal. They just are. In the Times piece, even the liberals seem to say it would be a mistake to insist on same doors for poor people because then maybe the rich people wouldn't let the poor people live indoors at all:

"There are trade-offs," said Lisa Sturtevant, vice president for research at the National Housing Conference, told the Times. And, to be fair to New York, she's in D.C.

The whole poor door issue just makes me feel stupid. I keep sitting here whacking myself in the forehead. "What? What?" Did I just imagine the civil rights movement? Am I Rip Van Winkle? Is this 1955?

Oh, man, here it is, what a relief: just before total flip-out I come across NextCity, a national website that deals with urban issues. On it, Ariella Cohen writes, "Drinking from separate water fountains was a big deal and sitting in different seats on the bus was also a pretty damn big deal."

OK, that's great. Yeah, I remember that. That really happened. We had the "Colored" door and the "Whites Only" door, and then those had to go away, because they were inhuman, demeaning and insulting to the people against whom they discriminated, and the use of them brought about depravity and moral debasement in the white people who insisted on them.

Here's how a poor door will work. Poor people get off the bus or climb out of the subway and walk to the poor door. Right next to them, some rich lades get out of a limo, and then they do this big boogie line dance with their Burberry umbrellas and their Birkin bags. "Ones, twos, threes, fours, you can't penetrate our doors."

Who needs that? Who wants it? Who could live with it? Lotta people in New York, I guess.

Do I feel superior? No, I told you I shot my high horse at the beginning of this. I think what I feel mostly is fear.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze