For many, one of the biggest affordable housing scandals in recent years has been the spread of “poor doors” which segregate social and low income tenants from their more affluent neighbours.
Defenders of such arrangements say they’re often requested by social landlords because tenants would be unable to afford the service charges for the posher amenities.
Many are unconvinced by such claims and want to see them banned from all developments in London.
(This typically detailed and nuanced exploration of the issue by the Guardian’s Dave Hill is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand its complexities.)
One person to advocate action is Sadiq Khan who last summer labelled poor doors an “appalling form of social segregation” and pledged to “ban” them “once and for all”.
In a strongly worded press issued by his then campaign to become Labour’s mayoral candidate, Sadiq said:
Sadiq Khan, a frontrunner for the Labour nomination to be the next Mayor of London, has today promised that if he becomes Mayor that no mixed housing development will be granted permission if the design has two entrances, one for private tenants and one for social tenants.
Sadiq Khan’s decision follows a series of meetings he has held with housing charities, including Shelter, Generation Rent and the Notting Hill Housing Trust where he discussed the need for a fundamentally new approach to dealing with London’s chronic housing crisis.
Sadiq has also spoken to developers and architects to canvass opinion about banning poor doors. A number of councils and tenants have also made clear their opposition to the two door entry system.
The use of poor doors to segregate tenants recently came to light when an investigation into a new development in East London found that in the promotional material for the development the company advised private buyers that they would have an exclusive hotel style lobby entrance while social tenants would have a separate door around the corner.
The two tier door system at the Commercial Street development is just one of a number segregated entrances that have been agreed in London over the last year and include developments agreed by the Mayor in Queens Park and Westminster.
Commenting Sadiq Khan said:
“Unlike the present mayor who has refused to end this appalling form of social segregation, I would act to ban poor doors once and for all. We outlawed segregation in this country almost 50 years ago and I’m not going to allow it to rear its ugly head again. Poor doors segregate people who are living side by side, they drive a wedge between our communities. I want a London that rejoices in its social cohesion not separates people on the basis of their social class. That’s why, with the powers I would have as Mayor, I will use them to bring an end to this dreadful and socially divisive practice.”
Yet Khan’s manifesto, published just last week, is significantly softer in its use of language.
Instead of a “ban” it contains a pledge to “Support ‘tenure-blind’ development, avoiding the use of ‘poor doors’, so that the access and communal areas for affordable housing are indistinguishable from those serving other homes.”
But something which is “indistinguishable” still exists, it’s just harder to differentiate from something else – a pair of identical twins may be indistinguishable from one another, but they’re still very much two separate people – and “tenure-blind” is normally used to describe homes which it’s hard to guess the nature of from the outside.
Taken together that doesn’t necessarily rule out poor doors and could be taken as meaning Sadiq would support, or at least grudgingly accept, their use provided that passersby couldn’t guess at the type of tenancy or tenure.
And yet the manifesto commits Sadiq to “avoiding the use of ‘poor doors’. ‘Avoid’ is clearly far weaker language than ‘ban’ which is what Sadiq used to have no problem promising so how does it fit together with his pledge to deliver “indistinguishable” entrances which still implies more than one door?
As you’d expect, I asked Team Khan whether their candidate was still advocating a ban but in response they merely referred me back to the manifesto’s statement.
So is Sadiq, now on the cusp of power, really still promising the same “ban” he was when seeking the nomination, and if he is, why doesn’t his manifesto clearly and unambiguously say so?