New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue

HABITAT

ARCHIVE ARTICLE

A Vision of New York City

Two decades ago, when Larry Kinitsky began serving as president of the Windsor Park Owners Corporation, young families were hardly flocking to the 20-building complex in Bayside. “No young person wanted to live in Queens,” he says, drawing out the name of that borough like the insult it once was.

Oh, how times – and real estate markets – have changed.

Two years ago, the corporation spent about $250,000 to upgrade playgrounds and the pool on the 46-acre site, responding to demands from young families.

And 20 years from now? “In the future, this trend is just going to continue,” says Kinitsky. “You’re going to have a lot more young people searching for homes and that will be combined with new immigrants and the older people who are looking to stay where they are.”

Kinitsky is not the only one thinking about what – and who – the future will bring. In December, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a broad and far-reaching blueprint for a future New York City called PlaNYC 2030.

“By 2030, projections show that our city will add nearly one million more people, along with millions of additional tourists and three quarters of a million new jobs,” Bloomberg said in an address unveiling PlaNYC 2030 at the Queens Museum of Art. “Second, our infrastructure will be getting older – more than a century old in many places. And it will be under increasing pressure. And third, as our population grows and our infrastructure ages, our environment – our air, water, and land – will be pushed to new and possibly precarious limits.”

Addressing those three issues – a burgeoning population, an aging infrastructure, and environmental demands – are at the core of PlaNYC 2030.

During a three-month period, city officials met with over 100 advocacy groups at town hall and neighborhood meetings to receive input on how to solve those problems. More than 3,000 suggestions came in over the plan’s website (www.nyc.gov/planyc2030).

 

Goals and Proposals

The city lists ten goals for 2030, ranging from making housing more affordable to reducing global warming emissions by 30 percent. Suggestions posted on the website for reaching those goals include removing red tape for builders who want to erect affordable housing projects and requiring taxis and city buses to use alternative gas fuel.

“At this point, we’re doing the policy analysis and developing the proposals of how we meet those goals,” says Rohit Thomas Aggarwala, who is the director of the city’s new Long-term Planning and Sustainability Office, which includes 10 staff members and relies on assistance from more than 15 city agencies.

Aggarwala says a portion of the plan will take the form of regulations; other parts of it will probably include lobbying Albany or Washington for legislative changes. Since Bloomberg is term-limited, action must come soon, he says, noting: “If we wait too long, we won’t have enough time to implement a well-developed plan.”

Although the city expects almost another million new residents, Aggarwala says that the issues are just as important for existing ones, whether it is the threat of flooding on the edges of the city and high-energy bills or overcrowded neighborhoods. When it comes to environmental impact, Aggarwala says there are many ways condo and co-op boards can make small changes that will have a big impact. Energy-efficient lightbulbs cost more but use less electricity and last several times longer than traditional bulbs. Hallway lighting is another huge environmental drain. “If you could have motion detectors you could probably cut your light use in half,” he says.

The fact that the city is even attempting such an ambitious plan is remarkable. “It was only 30 years ago that it looked like cities were finished, especially New York,” says Kenneth T. Jackson, editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City, who recalls a time when crime was up and real estate values were down. “Here, we have a situation where the major issue we’re dealing with is how to slow down the growth or keep up.”

In the city of 2030, existing owners will likely fare much better than renters. “I think most people will be delighted to see how much their homes will be worth,” Jackson says. At the same time, the city needs to make sure that there is still room for a middle class.

PlaNYC 2030 is not unique – and it’s actually behind the curve set by many other large cities, says Warren Karlenzig, chief strategy officer for an online media company called SustainLane Government. The group publishes “best practices” for state and local governments to create sustainable cities and ranks cities annually, based on such factors as per capita mass transit, walkability, air quality, congestion, and alternative energy sources. The 2006 rankings put New York City at number six. Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle (ranked one, two, and three) each began sustainability efforts in the early to mid-1990s.

New York City lagged behind other cities because of poor air quality, the lack of green buildings, and the high housing costs. It excelled in areas of mass transit and city zoning.

The ubiquitous bodega is actually one of the cornerstones of good planning. “Some cities have a separate business district that’s vacant at night, and that means they have to drive everywhere,” Karlenzig says. “The corner store is a big deal.”

PlaNYC 2030 is unusual in that it began with a drive by the city government, as compared to other cities where the push started with advocacy groups. It also is one of the few to look so far into the future. Some cities focus sustainability on environmental and social issues. But New York joins a few other cities, such as San Francisco, that also added housing, transportation, and infrastructure to their plans.

 

Plan Co-op

While New York will need to cope with an aging infrastructure of highways, bridges, and tunnels, co-op and condo boards will be facing their own infrastructure problems, says Kinitsky, the Queens board president. In the 1980s, when Kinitsky’s complex was converted, one of the first major jobs was a complete replacement of the windows. “If you get 25 years on your windows, you’re doing good,” says Kinitsky. “We’re at about 20 years now. Will they have to be done again? I’m sure at some time they will.”

A great number of buildings, like his, are hitting the 50- and 60-year-old mark. They will need a “mini-PlaNYC” of their own: new roofs, windows, elevators, and plumbing. “Many condos don’t look out far enough and then they get hit when it’s right in their face,” notes Kinitsky, whose property is a model of good planning. Over the years, Windsor Park has built an extensive capital-reserve budget, thanks to the refinancing of the mortgage, selling roof space to cell phone companies, and other measures. That has allowed the board to undertake infrastructure projects without going to shareholders.

It’s a point that will become even more relevant over time. As the population grows and real estate becomes more valuable, prime areas will be even more choice. Boards that can plan ahead so they don’t have to raise monthly fees or seek cash for capital improvements will be even more competitive in that marketplace.

 

Future Shock?

Competition is on Leslie Kaminoff’s mind, as well, as he looks to the future. The founder and owner of AKAM Associates, a management company, he figures that most of the estimated 260,000 new housing units needed for the city will be either condos or co-ops. Many of those new buildings will probably have technological advantages as standard amenities, such as building-wide, high-speed internet access and specialized television services, like digital video recorders. Now might be the time for old buildings to upgrade.

“If it’s between two apartments and one has [those services], they’re going to win the buyer, even today, forget about 25 years from now,” says Kaminoff, whose company manages 85 properties in New York and New Jersey totaling 14,000 units.

The buyer of the future will probably be drawn to environmentally friendly buildings in the same way they will want techno-savvy ones. Twenty years ago, a building was considered “green” if it worked to eliminate lead paint and asbestos. “Now I have a proposal on my desk for solar-powered trash bins,” Kaminoff says. The bins automatically compact when trash reaches a certain level, cutting down the number of trash pickups needed.

Large buildings or complexes will automatically have an advantage in upgrading to compete with new construction. A management company with several small buildings could keep up by bidding for services or working as a group.

Kaminoff admits it may be a tough sell to convince some management companies and boards to earmark money for a distant future. “Most owners don’t want to look 25 years down the road. A lot of them think, ‘I’m not going to be here in 25 years – I don’t want to spend the money.’”

On the flip side, the future might bring savings in other, unexpected places. One of the buildings AKAM manages is a landmark on Central Park West. When façade work needed to be done in the past, it had been expensive, but new materials are emerging that are better, cheaper, and still conform to historical standards.

Those who want to prepare should also consider who will be the new New Yorkers. Planners estimate that a significant number of residents will be immigrants, which will translate into building superintendents who speak multiple languages as well as boards that are sensitive to different expectations for their buildings. For example, Kaminoff says some buyers want a luxurious lobby, while others would rather spend their money on their living spaces. These preferences may reflect cultural differences among buyers that need to be taken into account.

Other managers and board members see the future bringing issues beyond those raised in PlaNYC 2030. Peter Bickford, president of the co-op board at the 124-unit 50 Park Avenue, says one major issue that could have a great impact is a City Council initiative that would require a board to give a written reason if it decides to decline a person’s application.

“This would make it harder and harder to have any flexibility in dealing with applicants,” Bickford notes. “Any time you choose to reject someone, you’re going to have to involve counsel and draft a reason and make sure it’s going to stand up under a test of litigation.”

The threat of a lawsuit would also make it even harder to convince qualified people to serve on a board. “If the council’s initiative is adopted, it would also seriously undermine the unique distinction of co-ops over condos – and significantly increase a board’s exposure to the potential of actually being served with litigation. Whether you win or lose, it’s a tight situation.”

Over the years, Paul J. Herman, executive vice president at Brown Harris Stevens, says he has seen boards grow more sophisticated; a trend that can make a manager’s life more difficult because board members expect more from a manager. “I would hope that as we go into the future, there is more respect for property managers,” he says.

That will become even more important in the coming years, thanks to advances in technology, environmental commitments, the pressures from an aging infrastructure, and population growth.

Herman, who has been managing properties since the early 1980s currently for a company that dates back to the late 1800s, notes: “In the future, the additional knowledge and expertise that will be required will necessitate additional resources from management, which in turn mean higher fees.” So, in the end, having a vision for your property is crucial.

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