08/14/2014 06:40 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2014

New York City's 'Poor Door' Trend Nothing New

Here's a novel way to end income inequality: Hide it. Sound ridiculous? Not if you're a large residential development company in New York City. One of them has been on the short end of jokes recently after designing a residential building in Manhattan with a prominent entrance in front for rich apartment owners and another not so flashy off the back alley for "common folk" who rent affordable housing units there. Same building, two separate entrances, a distance and worlds apart.

The benefit for the wealthy is obvious. No awkward social situations when forced to encounter a person of lesser means in the elevator.

To be fair, there are sometimes legitimate reasons to design housing complexes with dedicated access points, but that hardly seems the case in this instance.

It would be easy to pile on the development company by pointing out "separate but equal" is a flawed and failed philosophy or how second-class citizenship and discrimination are offensive and unwelcomed in the 21st century. But before we continue the beat down of the developer, let's admit we've been doing this for years in this country -- keeping our distance from and hiding those on the lower end of the economic ladder.

Not only wealthy but solidly middle-class communities resist attempts to place affordable housing within their borders. Preferring instead to see it concentrated in urban centers, with the poor and their problems well hidden from suburbia.

Nothing brings out the NIMBY in us like the prospect of affordable rental housing right next door. After all, conversation with someone less flush can be just as difficult at the fence line as in the elevator.

Even though affordable housing can be safe and attractive, we prefer to believe the myth that those with less wealth cannot be good neighbors.

Our tendency to distance ourselves from the really poor, such as people who are homeless, is even more glaring. We too often choose to ignore them completely or chase them out.

According to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, laws criminalizing homelessness are on the rise as more communities find ways to ban and penalize anything associated with life on the street. In these hamlets, moving the homeless out of town trumps moving them into housing.

As ludicrous as it would be to rely on separate entrances to solve income inequality, think about how loony are the notions of outlawing homelessness and poverty to resolve those issues. Yet, that's exactly what's happening.

As the Law Center ably concludes, such ordinances are counterproductive and, well, a bit daft.
It's hard to raise revenue when you assess a monetary fine against someone who has no money. And is it really cost-effective to place homeless persons in jail cells rather than decent housing?
We already know it isn't and that affordable supportive housing, not prison, works to grow homeless people into "formerly homeless people" and also saves tax dollars. Supportive housing actually raises the market values of surrounding properties.

If we would dedicate resources to the proven solutions of inclusive supportive housing and other affordable housing rather than wasting time, talent and treasury on trying to separate homeless people and those less fortunate from the community, we would realize even more progress.
Officials in New York City say they expect to see additional proposals for residential buildings with divisive "Rich" and "Not-so-rich" entrance ways.

This concept is nothing new. Separation has long existed as subtle public policy if not the obvious intention to avoid what are perceived as tough decisions and un-pleasantries. But until we fully embrace, commit to, and invest in models that bring people together to solve poverty and homelessness, distances and separation will continue to drive us apart. And there's no way to hide that fact.