Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hiring of a Felon Causes Cooperator Discontent at a Bronx Housing Cooperative

By Jay Hauben and Rafael Martínez Alequín

The Amalgamated: a socialist-inspired housing co-op in the Bronx

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) who amal-manager.pdf acknowledged 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.


Anonymous said...

The original Amalgamated buildings were beautiful, classic designs, lovely gardens, with fountains, surrounded by trees. A sylvan setting.... Maintenance always a problem at the co-op: shoddy, repeated repairs made by
unqualified handymen, whether it be major items, such as leaking roofs, or minor ones like leaking faucets. Deterioration as a result. Building improvements have compromised the aesthetic integrity of the older buildings. At the same time, no accessibility for the disabled and elderly is ever available.

The cost-saving of going green is never considered.  Co-op uses diesel snow-blowers and leaf-blowers, instead of electric tools or muscle.  Co-op has lawn sprinklers watering the streets, the Towers benches, the sidewalks
instead of water-saving soaker hoses. Roofs have not been painted white.  Security was using a gas-guzzling Jeep instead of motor scooters.

Affordable rents? Not really. Not if you include the equity investment, and not when you realize that every salary raise is eaten away by increased carrying charges.  Investments in real home ownership often lead to profit;
in our co-op they lead to loss, as management confiscates large portions of the Equity to pay for normal wear and tear on vacated units.

Secrecy and silence are the mottos of the board & management.  Of course there's corruption and nepotism! How else would so many people occupy apartments without paying rent or equity?

Sense of community? no way, not any more now little cliques. A sense of cohesion was destroyed along with the first building.

and justice for all said...

Allow me to say that this is the result of people not being able to come together and put aside their petty differences and disagreements for a common cause...everyone wanted to be a chairman...everyone wanted to be in control. Everyone wanted to control what was said and how it was said and what was done and how it was done. And then there were those involved in a movement solely for their own they ran to the Management Office in an effort to strike deals in the hopes of getting more desirable apartments. The activist of yesteryear has been replaced by shady mama's boys who talk the talk but fail to walk the walk.

Nevermind the deep seated hatred for persons of color amonst the descendant of the "founders"... thats just a distraction. The fact remains that all of these problems can be traced right back to Ed Yaker and the people who worship him.

Since there are so many renters on premises now, I believe it is high time folks start demanding the return of their equity. Had I known I was buying into corruption and a myriad of social service agencies I would have saved my money and bought a townhouse.

This place has devolved into a halfway house for ex-cons and friends and family members of the Board who cannot find jobs elsewhere because they lack the professionalism and self respect that would lead to employment outside of the Amalgamated.

By not consistently "checking" the Board on their actions and not moving forward in a collective effort to file suit against the Corporation due to the failure of the Board to uphold their fiduciary responsibility to THE SHAREHOLDERS (not to be confused with persons who inherited their apartments from deceased family or lovers) we are ALLOWING these people to steal not only our money but our piece of mindas well.

I, for one, have had enough. Let the chips fall where the may...but I will not leave until every last dime I put into this fraud of a Housing Project is return to me.

Anonymous said...

Hey, how can I rent one of these cheap apartments? I think my dealer in Building 12 will put in a good word for me.

Anonymous said...

Building 12 is on Hillman Avenue. Do you have something against garbagemen?

Jay said...

I can't see how half truths and falsehoods can be helpful. I think of the story of rental apartments.

During the depression 60% of the Amalgamated cooperators could not pay some or all of their carrying charges. Some people left the project. The Board at that time worked out three schemes by which old and new residents could be temporary renters.

Amalgamated got through the depression and the great majority of the renters became cooperators.

On the other hand, there is a fraudulent practice of warehousing apartments. What is the truth at Amalgamated?

Only getting at the truth not unfounded speculation about empty or rental apartments would help us determine if there is fraud or not. 'Innocent until proven guilty' is a principle that gives a society strength.

Anonymous said...

Jay, how in the hell will you ever know the answers to your questions as long as the present AHC board and management hold the keys to the kingdom? The present board and management feel no need for accountability or transparency. Ed Yaker and Doris Spencer are sovereign. That is a fact, not a rumor.

If you feel comfortable with the fact that you paid a substantial equity while others did not -- and will not -- then that's your choice. But I am not comfortable with that fact, and I'm even less comfortable (read: livid) with the fact that my equity will not be returned upon my moving out of the co-op. And that is an undisputable fact, Jay, not a rumor just because you might say that it is one.

The Amalgamated will never be the Utopia you dream of. Never. And that's another fact.

and justice for all said...

Jay...I am so sad for you. Really really sad. Where you read into the history of the Coop, trying to restor it to its original state, you arent stepping back and looking at the picture for what it really is...please step back and survey the area...look at what this place has become.
1) yes, there is drug dealing going on in the coop by coop staff. the president of the board knows, carl stein knows, the correction officer who lives in building 12 knows this as well. it is a very sad state of affairs, but also the result of what happens when you do not EVICT drug dealers from the "community" simply because said drug dealers are related to the Chairman of the Allocations Board and President of the Van Cortlandt Jewish Center.

2) Justin Alston Payne may have done us a huge disservice by approving the carrying charge increase, but she did nail them on the warehousing of apartments and illegal waiting lists. Justine was "released" from her duties at the DHCR (now NYSHCR) after writing her scathing report of the Coop. That fuel oil increase was a great indication of the corruption that exists in the Management Office. Goldwater was fired from Seward Park for illegal waiting lists. Then she negotiated a multi-million dollar fuel oil contract without DHCR approval.

3) The Board voted on the increase a month before that contract was signed...stating the increase was necessary for energy costs. Yet, the minutes showed our electricity and fuel oil costs were down from the previous years after the increase. On meet the candidates night you posed the question: Will there be a roll back on the previous increase once the fuel oil contract expires? Karen Armstrong answered no...that money can be used for capital projects, Nice work.

4) Ed Yaker gave the elevators a facelift while he was acting interim manager and board president. The elevators are still just as slow, but they use twice the energy now because one is always sitting on the 6th floor. The most pressing issue in the buildings was water damage. The buildings hadnt been sealed in quite some time. People are suffering from mold related illnesses in some of the apartments. Very sad. Great job Yiggy. And while we are on the subject of Yiggy, it was brought to my attention that Yiggy isnt actually a shareholder. The apartment he currently occupies belonged to his mother-in-law.

5) Robert Gillman (and the rest of the Board) recently voted on paying $500 for an advertisement in the Van Cortlandt Jewish Center journal. Robert Gillman is the President of the Van Cortlandt Jewish Center. Thats a conflict of interest and begs the question: how much money does the Amalgamated contribute to the Van Cortlandt Jewish Center? If I had know I was moving into a relgious institution, I would have refrained from paying any of my hard earned money to live in a cult.

6) Former manager Bill Schwarz signed a multimillion dollar contract with AM&G. He left abruptly and went to work for St. Johns University (where Russakoff works). Shortly thereafter, he was given a cushy job working for .... AM&G. Interesting.

7) Jeffrey Dinowitz used to secure funding for Doris Spencer AHC/NORC projects for the elderly. Once the cat was let out of the bag regarding his mother residing in the Amalgamated (along with his son his brother and his sister in law), that funding is now requested and secured by Naomi Rivera. I believe this blog once ran a video of Dinowitz Mom getting bags of free food from Espada on the corner of Van Cortlandt Park South and Hillman Avenue.

and justice for all said...


I could go on and on and on...but why bother. During the "Great Depression" this community was largely homogenous. Now, with Section 8 and vouchers for homeless families, the Coop is able to secure consistent funding for apartments without interruption.

Gee, whatever happened to the family who burned down the apartment in building 7?

You and Rafael wrote a great article, but too many rheotorical questions were posed. Trust your instincts, sir. You and your wife were treated horribly by the same Management Office that exists today before you took possession of your apartment. I know you want this to be a place that matters, but thats never going to happen unless the entire back office and Board are removed.

Have a great day.

Anonymous said...

Jay, be very careful with the people whom you discuss Coop business with. I have an e-mail in my possession in which a certain 500lb monster who lives with his mother in building 8 declares he would like to beat your wife Rhonda with a baseball bat. If you would like me to forward you that e-mail, just say the word, but I will do so anonymously.

Thats one of the biggest problems we have in this Coop. Its loaded with Mamas boys who secretly HATE strong women with opinions. Its despicable really, but what can you do? Anyone who says they would like to bring a baseball bat to a meeting where your wife is present is a deranged lunatic and someone who cannot be trusted.

Anonymous said...

According to Jerzy Warman, we're all a bunch of malcontents.

I wonder what he does for a living?

Jay said...

This letter appeared in the Aug 4, 2011 Riverdale Press

August 3, 2011
Amalgamated residents should have a say
By Jay Hauben

Your article, “Amalgamated’s new manager has fraud on resume” quoted members of the Board of Directors of the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative upbeat about their choice of the new manager regardless of his conviction for housing management fraud. It also quoted cooperators at Amalgamated who are dismayed by that choice. It is fair to say that the community is split, with many cooperators questioning why the Board did not keep looking until it found a good candidate with a clean record.

This situation raises a long-standing question, why didn’t the Board consult the cooperators before it made its decision?

One answer given by a Board member is that the cooperators elect some Board members every year at an annual meeting in May. So the cooperators do have a say in the decisions that affect them. It was their Board that made this decision for them. If enough cooperators are dissatisfied they should elect different Board members next May.

But many decisions are made each year. Why shouldn’t the cooperators be consulted before a big decision like hiring a new manager is made? When Abraham Kazan was President of the Amalgamated Board he called for educational activities and votes for big decisions like whether or not to expand the community by building four new buildings (1949-1951). He didn’t argue that, “You elected us to the Board so we will make this decision for you.” He saw the value of education and information and even sometimes cooperator voting so that big decisions had cooperators input and eventual approval.

It is not just at Amalgamated that we find this problem of the people affected being left out of the decision making process. Since the June 1950 decision for the U.S. to enter the Korean War, no U.S. president has asked the U.S. Congress for a declaration before going to war. Such big decisions as being at war in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Pakistan have been made without consulting the American people or in most cases without consulting the U.S. Congress.

But the problem at Amalgamated is particularly painful because the cooperators are the owners of the Corporation but also the residents of the buildings that the Corporation manages. If we were not consulted or informed before the decision was made and if trust has not been built, then the life of the cooperators is a little more insecure. If the cooperators had a ‘house committee’ or ‘cooperators association’, perhaps the Board would be more inclined to hear from us before, rather than after big decisions are made.

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