By Jay Hauben and Rafael Martínez Alequín
Many peopled living at the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative in the Bronx consider themselves lucky. The housing market in New York City is not conducive to working families to live in the city. Rents are too high and the salary is, if you are lucky to hold a job, going down.
Still, at the Amalgamated Co-op the 11 buildings are well designed and basically kept in good repair. The grounds and play areas are descent and there is some cooperator spirit and pride in the place. So far, for 84 years the rent has been kept in the range that low and moderate income people can afford. Basically there has also been a sense of community since 1927 when the first cooperators moved in.
But there is also some cooperator discontent. Any semblance of cooperator participation in the decisions of the co-op has been lost. The Board of Directors makes no effort to involve cooperators in even the most important decisions. It is virtually impossible to offer criticisms or suggestions or amendments to the bylaws. Board meetings are virtually closed. The 2009-2010 million dollar plus heating fuel contract was signed without competitive bidding or fair procedure. The lack of transparency has led some cooperators to suspect corruption. Without solid proof those suspicions are only speculation.
The Amalgamated Bylaws give to the Board of Directors the power to hire and fire and supervise the housing project manager. Perhaps this is the most important function of the Board. Everything the manager does affects the cooperators. A new manager was just hired. The Board has refused publicly to answer the frequently asked question, why have the three most recent Amalgamated managers left in the last 5 1/2 years?
A new question has been asked. Why did the Board hire as manager a person (CHARLES ZSEBEDICS) whoacknowledged to the cooperators that he is a felon convicted of housing management corruption as part of a criminal enterprise?
The Board gives the answer he was the "best candidate" for the job. No grounds have been given on which he was judged to be best. Why didn't the Board keep looking until it found a manager with a clean record of housing management? Why didn't the Board have a meeting where cooperators could have met the top candidates and asked them questions? That way the Board could have known the concerns of some cooperators and taken them into account when it made its final choice. Why didn't the Board realize that hiring a housing management felon to be the manager would only add to distrust toward the Board? If the best candidate was a felon convicted of housing management corruption the Board had the obligation to the cooperators and to the new manager to explain its choice. But so far the Board has done nothing to win trust for itself or the new manager.
Some cooperator comments include:
"I am frankly absolutely shocked that this guy was actually convicted of a felony, and that he actually was hired by the Amalgamated. . . . I don't wish him any harm, but I feel he could have taken a management job of another nature somewhere else. . . . The bottom line is that I think that there will be very little trust toward this manager from cooperators. . . I don't know how these Board Members continue to get away with not discussing important issues about the cooperative."
Ezra Glaser, Amalgamated Cooperator
"I'm wondering why in a co-op as great and diverse as ours, are we not able to select persons to manage that have clean backgrounds. Apparently our board seems only to be able to choose from a small pool, of sort of, recycled industry insiders. People who have been directly associated with real-estate crime, or very close to it. . . We are practically locked out of the process of selecting personnel and being told that WE are not able to know the reasons why the persons selected did not work out for US, for fear of legal retaliation."
Malcolm Greene, Amalgamated Cooperator
"This is like putting the wolf in the chicken coup. Don't we have enough of this kind of nonsense going on right now? On this basis alone (the nature of the charges), this man should not have been hired. It's not like he stole a loaf of bread because of hunger. This is a slap in the face to all the residents of this community."
Anonymous Amalgamated Cooperator
"[Can] having him as manager eradicate the rumors or perceptions around the coop about management when there are grand contracts e.g., with oil companies, elevators, new doors and even the surveillance cameras installed on the buildings?"
RMA, Amalgamated Cooperator
This hiring of a manager despite his felony conviction for housing management corruption shows the power of the Board of Directors. Whoever is elected to the Board, the question is, how can the cooperators have power to oversee and influence the Board? Is there a way for the cooperators to organize that gives them (us) power to face situations like this and have some chance of better outcomes?
Comments and help are accepted from everywhere.