Newsflash: Vancouver is a city divided along socio-economic lines. Some people have lots of money and some people have hardly any at all. Some people fall somewhere in between.
Rich people have nicer stuff than poor people. They drive Audis and BMWs and Range Rovers and Teslas. They don't have to take the bus unless they really want to. Some of them live in big houses in nice neighbourhoods. Some of them live in luxury condominiums downtown, in the West End, Coal Harbour and all around False Creek. They wear nice clothes and eat at expensive restaurants that I've never stepped foot in. You see them everywhere.
I know. I'm not super happy about the disparity between the rich people and the poor people in this city, either, but to quote Bruce Hornsby, "That's just the way it is."
And since this is on display everywhere all of the time, I have to admit I'm having some difficulty understanding the complete outrage over the fact that a mixed-use residential building just approved in Vancouver's West End has separate entrances for the condo tower and the social housing occupying the lower floors.
The outraged have borrowed a phrase from cities like New York and London. They would like you to call the entrance to the social-housing units "the poor doors." It's catchy, I know. The media loves it.
The building that is the focus of their outrage is to be built at 1171 Jervis St., on the corner of Jervis and Davie. It is an unremarkable and typically Vancouver 19-storey tower with a three-storey podium primarily on the Davie Street side. The building contains 63 market-priced condo units and 28 units of social housing. The entrance to the social housing will be on the Davie Street side, while the condo dwellers will enter through a door on the Jervis Street side.
And that is what the outrage is based upon. Relatively rich condo owners won't have to rub shoulders with those in a lower tax bracket.
The configuration is a far cry from London, where the tenants who live in affordable housing units attached to condo buildings are banned from using "the posh door" and in some cases forced to enter through dimly lit lanes or doors adjacent to trade entrances and loading bays.
In New York, it was a development on the western edge of Manhattan labelled "a disgrace" by City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal that ignited the poor-door debate. Civil-liberties lawyer Randolph McLaughlin told NPR that since a number of the tenants could be minorities, the building's design wasn't just disgraceful, it was possibly illegal.
Roughly 20 per cent of the units in the 33-storey tower on Riverside Drive have been reserved for social housing, which has been clustered together and will be accessed though a separate entrance. Such was the outrage that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised a review of the zoning bylaws that allow social-housing units attached to luxury condos to be treated as two separate buildings.
In April, The New York Times reported that for the 55 affordable units in the building, they had received 88,000 applications. They'll be assigned through a lottery system, which is also under review. I'm guessing the people who get one of these units won't be complaining about the separate entrance.
Here's a second newsflash for you: The rich and the poor have always had separate doors, usually miles away from each other. I'm not saying that's right – I wish it were otherwise. But this poor-door debate (if you can even call it a debate), while symbolic of a larger problem, is to me little more than a catch phrase that when pronounced correctly doesn't even rhyme. It's click-bait.
I count at least three entrances to the Woodward's complex and, from the street, you'd be hard-pressed to tell which is for the condos and which is for social housing.
On Richards Street, there's L'Hermitage with an insanely luxurious entrance for the hotel and condo portion of the building, but then it's a hotel. The social housing that's attached is designed to look like a separate building. There are no orchids or high-backed velvet chairs in its entryway, but geometric floor tiles and fashionable light fixtures.
Over on Jervis Street, 28 families and individuals in need of some decent affordable housing are about to get it, in a great neighbourhood and, as I recall, pretty close to a school. I know – it's a drop in the bucket. We need so much more.
But when it comes to the disparity between this city's richest and people who struggle to get by, poor doors are a red herring.
Now cue the outrage.