It would be harder to find a straighter arrow in the world of real estate than Livingstone Young. He is, in fact, so without quirks that he has no nickname. Young is president of Jamaica Towers Owners in Queens, a two-building, 358-unit co-op built in the 1950s, and winner of a 2001 Habitat Management Achievement Award.
"He's a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy," says Richard Wong, of Pickman Realty Corporation, a sponsor representative on the board. "There's nothing flamboyant about him; he listens to all sides of a story, and then comes up with the best solution. He gives everyone a chance to speak, then comes up with a plan of action to solve the problem at hand."
In fact, Young is so without flamboyance that his daughter complains when he attempts to dance to her CDs, and his son makes fun of his attempts at singing. Once, when his daughter was playing music and her father began to dance, she stopped the CD in disgust. "Dad, you can't dance like that," she said, rolling her eyes. But Young refused to be humiliated by the incident. "I thought I was doing pretty well, actually," he says.
The minute Livingstone Young was elected to his building's board of directors, Wong knew it would be good for the building. "He understands everything — both operational and financial issues — and he's very good at planning ahead. He knows all the angles, and is in touch with management, residents, and the building workers. He rolls up his sleeves and gets involved."
Getting involved for Young means spending his own time — Saturday mornings — having coffee with the building staff. "You get the pulse of
the building from the workers," says Wong. "They know what's going on more than anyone else."
Being a hands-on person comes naturally to Young. As a child growing up on the island of Jamaica, he would go to the furniture manufacturing store owned by his uncle and learned to create small things like boxes, and then, as time went by, moved on to larger items. He also played baseball and field hockey for the Kingston College High School, where he was secretary of the Jamaica Men's Hockey Association.
Young is, by his own admission, someone who likes being involved. He joined the Freemasons in 1982, and performed volunteer work in Jamaica before moving to the United States to attend CUNY's York College in Queens. He was also the official scorer for both his high school cricket team and a local league team.
He grew up as part of a large and close-knit family — eight children in all, four boys and four girls. "My mother and grandmother taught us to respect elders, and people in general, and to work hard. My father said that when you do a job, do it well. If you don't, you'll have to do it again."
Young took his father's words to heart, and makes a point of personally inspecting every aspect of the building's daily operations, and, sometimes, he notices things even the super doesn't see. His vigilance, while good for the building, can occasionally lead to
confrontations. Once, a resident left
her clothes in the laundry room dryer for over two hours. When Young told the super to remove the items and
leave them on the folding table, the resident took offense. The girl told her mother, who knocked on Young's door at 10:30 that night. When he answered, she proceeded to curse him, so he slammed the door. (When the woman later demanded Young be removed from the board, the rest of the directors refused, feeling his actions were justified.)
However, such a reaction is unusual for a man who, according to Wong, is "really even-tempered and level-headed." In general, he has very good relations with board members and tenant-shareholders. He is honest and open to suggestions, and there are few or no dogfights at board meetings, unlike some co-ops. He is very interested in the quality of life issues for residents. Once, when a resident became "obsessed" with the noise coming from the apartment above him, Young brought in a mediator. "We were afraid the guy was going to go insane," Wong says, "so we put the upstairs apartment on the open market."
Young came to Jamaica Towers during his college years. He was living in Hollis, Queens, when his apartment was vandalized. He was so traumatized by the break-in that he moved to Jamaica Towers and bought an apartment, sight unseen. He wanted a secure building with a doorman and knew he had found one. In 1992, he attended the annual board meeting — at the time the focus of power was moving from the sponsor to the shareholders, and there was a lot of competition to be on the board. Young spoke to the managing agent after the meeting, who suggested he join the board. He was elected the following year. By his third year, he was president, and has served in that capacity ever since — even after he moved out of the building two years ago.
Young was not shy about making changes consolidating the president's power. "The managing agent used to run the meetings, and I decided the president would run them," he recalls. Since the agent represented the original sponsor, who owned controlling shares at the time, the residents were very pleased with Young's plan. "They felt one of their own was running things now," he says.
The shareholders were right. Under Young's administration, the roofs, boilers, and driveways were all replaced, as were all the windows in both buildings. There is now a waiting list to buy apartments, and the building's financial health is good.
In the end, a nickname is possibly the only thing missing in Livingstone Young's rich and accomplished life. On the other hand, maybe giving him one would just be gilding the lily.