Monday, December 9, 2013

Amalgamated Housing Coop's Love Fest Between the Manager and the Board President

Video By Rafael Martínez Alequín 
By Jay Hauben                       

More than 4000 people live at the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative in the Bronx section of NYC. It is perhaps the oldest  Rochdale Cooperative housing experiments in the US. Begun in 1927, Amalgamated survived the Great Depression and the high inflation of the 1970s. It expanded from its original 303 working families to currently 1486 units in 11 buildings. In 2013 over the protests of some cooperators, the Board and Manager took a $30 million refinancing loan. The protest was not the amount of the refinancing it was of the cost to cooperators of taking that loan for only a 15 year period. Recently, the question has been raised at Amalgamated, will it last as a low and moderate income co-op and "affordable housing" until 2020 and beyond?

There were meetings on Thursday, December 5, at 2:30pm and 7:30pm called by management for an update on the repair projects financed by the $30 million loan.

The meetings were, from my point of view, mostly self praise and double talk. The President of the Board and the Manager said very nice things about each other. Then they told us about new projects that they are continually adding, for example, a $600,000 ventilation system for the Gale Place Garage and $138,000 for a sprinkler system there. These were not in the original plans. Also, this was the first time we heard that the roofs of two old building have to be totally replaced with the asbestos  removed. The Manager said the roofs are spongy. He also told us for the first time the projects need an onsite safety officer for each hour of work. The cost is $125/hour. So for 40 hours per week for two years that would be over $500,000 just for the safety officer. Could that be true? The Manager had miscalculated and said it would be only $200,000 for the whole two years.

The Manager was proud to say when it is all done the Gale Place Garage and the lobbies of the tower buildings will be works of art.

Some people got up to praise the manager but a number of people said the cooperators aren't getting timely information. There is very little communication about the projects and no way for cooperators to make input. The President and Manager were asked how come there is so much project-creep and budget-creep. Is there any oversight of this process? Where is any concern for cost? The answer was that we have no choice. The Board and Manager have  fiduciary obligations. But I think if the community was consulted we could pick which projects were needed and which were not and cost would be considered as well.

One person asked if the Manager already had plans to ask for more money soon. The answer was maybe in 5 years. He pointed out the Physical Needs Assessment projected that $100 million worth of repairs was needed in the next 10 years to repair Amalgamated. But I don't accept that Amalgamated is in such an almost slum like condition that it needs $100,000,000 in repairs in the next 10 years. The Manager said we will come to that down the road.

The meeting demonstrated again how big the challenge is to maintain Amalgamated and other low and moderate income housing in New York City in the "affordable housing" category. If people with limited income and savings want to live in NYC, they will have to take up and win the challenge.
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