New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Perspectives: Mary Ann Rothman

Twenty years ago, housing cooperatives and condominiums were not new to New York, but they were surely not the household word that they are today. Twenty years ago, New York City was continuing its slow emergence from decades of disfavor and disrepair and was on its way to a renaissance as a business center, a cultural center, a tourist attraction, and a desirable place to live. Cooperatives and condominiums have played their own important role in New York's resurgence.

Twenty years ago, with characteristic prescience, Carol Ott expanded The Loft Letter into Habitat magazine, just as the co-op and condo community was coming into a true awareness of itself. Like the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums, Habitat has played a crucial role in providing information and education to the residents and board members of this form of housing, and has helped bring the needs and strong potential of co-op and condo homeowners to the attention of government, service providers, and vendors.

As people opt to make their homes in cooperatives and condominiums, they make a firm commitment to this city. Buildings run by resident-owners are likely to be well-maintained and well-organized. Owner-occupants understand the importance of ensuring the structural soundness of their buildings, and they also bring improvements to the quality of life through the addition of playrooms, exercise rooms, storage facilities, and rooms for meetings or social gatherings. Co-op and condo residents also seek to improve their neighborhoods. Local schools, parks, and recreational and cultural programs are enhanced through the participation of these homeowners.

Twenty years ago, Albany passed legislation authorizing non-eviction conversions, where owners could convert buildings to cooperative or condominium status once there was commitment for 15 percent of the units to be purchased. Designed to protect renters already in place in these buildings, this law opened the floodgates for a wave of conversions that dominated the decade.

Twenty years ago, a young Council of New York Cooperatives had carefully prepared its member cooperatives (about 220 of them) to cope with a possible strike by building service employees when their triennial contract expired in April 1982. For the first time, CNYC had a seat on the board of the Realty Advisory Board, which represents management in these negotiations. Part of the CNYC's role there was to dispel the prevalent myth that cooperatives and condominiums were the weakest link and would quickly cave in to union demands. Not true. For, as resident-homeowners, we must be mindful of the cost of all services while still providing fair wages and benefits for our employees.

Twenty years ago, CNYC was learning the ramifications of new legislation requiring that cooperatives and condominiums be assessed for property tax based upon their value as rental buildings.

Twenty years ago, the boards of housing cooperatives and condominiums were learning their responsibilities and trying to teach their neighbors the responsibilities of home ownership. They have turned to CNYC and to Habitat for information and for guidance.

And where are we now? Revisiting this landscape 20 years later, one cannot escape the truth of the French adage, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." Yet we can see change, and we can see progress.

Today, CNYC is seeking legislation in Albany that will improve the conversion process and ensure healthier starts for new cooperatives and condominiums.

Today, CNYC continues to represent its members (2,242 of them) in labor negotiations. The Bronx and Westchester have just settled a contract without resorting to strikes; the other four boroughs have a contract expiring in 2003. The 2000 contract gave employees the opportunity to learn computer skills and then receive a deep discount on the purchase of their own computers; thousands of union members took advantage of this opportunity to acquire computer skills, which are now enhancing services in the buildings where they work.

Today, CNYC is 12 years into a crusade led by its Action Committee for Reasonable Real Estate Taxes to ensure fair tax treatment of homeowners in cooperatives and condominiums. The abatement program, now in its seventh year, has gone a long way in this direction. The action committee continues to strive for a permanent tax fairness program.

Today, CNYC, like Habitat, continues to inform and educate board members and residents of housing cooperatives and condominiums about their responsibilities and also about the opportunities available to them.

There is still much to do. CNYC and Habitat can plan on many more decades of working together for cooperatives and condominiums. Today, when CNYC or Habitat presents the point of view of cooperatives and condominiums, the world surely knows and understands who we are.

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