Edward J. Ermler
President, Roosevelt Terrace Cooperative, Jackson Heights
Eleven years ago, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime, the ability to further my education and experience while also making a difference in other people’s lives. I’m talking about serving on my co-op's board of directors. My wife and I had only been living in our Jackson Heights cooperative for a year when the president asked me to run for a seat on the nine-member board. She said that my experience as an electrical engineer and vice president of a technology company would be helpful in providing a different perspective and insight into normal day-to-day operations of the four buildings and 437 units of the Roosevelt Terrace cooperative.
For my first three years, I felt out of my element. What did it all mean? The biggest question in my mind was why did most of our residents seem to dislike the board? After all, we were all volunteers, working for their benefit.
After September 11, 2001, the need for security and, more importantly, the need to feel safe in one’s home became our prime concern. We decided that our buildings needed to have video cameras installed in the public spaces. After receiving several proposals from various companies, the board turned to me and asked my opinion. Finally! Something I understood and could actually design. By the following board meeting, not only did I have all of the engineering drawings done, I had the pricing completed, and put together a team of volunteers comprising of staff members and residents that would help install it. Three weeks later, the system was installed and the cooperative saved more than $35,000 over the lowest bidder. Our residents were elated with the new video system.
In the back of my mind, I felt that I was one step further in achieving my goal. I was determined to break down the “us versus them” mentality and get the residents to like the board. From this point onward, I became obsessed with learning everything there was to know about real estate, cooperative living, building operations, and finding ways to solve those pesky interpersonal relationships between residents.
In 2006, I was elected president, and I was also handed a budget that was out of balance to the tune of $195,000. In addition, shortly after the elections, we experienced our first major fire. There was no way that I was going to let this get me down. Unfortunately, during the same period of time we were dealing with an inept property management firm and a property manager who was present only physically, never mentally. I knew it was time to go back to my training as an engineer and began assessing the problems using a more scientific approach.
Our budgetary woes were analyzed and their root cause was, in a word, energy. Fuel costs were through the roof, yet people were always complaining that they were too hot or too cold. Our four laundry rooms were yielding only $300 a month income after expenses. Something had to be done. Since our building is on a master meter and the cost of electricity is factored into the monthly maintenance, we started our energy awareness campaign by giving all the residents, free, compact fluorescent bulbs. We changed all the exit lights from incandescent lamps to LED (light-emitting diode) light bulbs and replaced the perimeter lighting with high-efficiency fixtures. I tweaked the software that controls both the heat distribution and boiler operations and modified our constant pressure water system to be more efficient. We purchased new laundry equipment and threw the concessioner off the property. At the end of the second year in office, our $195,000 deficit turned into a $225,000 surplus.
These days, every resident has nothing but good things to say about the board. I have achieved my goal. I have residents lining up to volunteer for whatever project, task, or committee that may be available. I, too, have grown from this experience. I realize now that if I was ever become tired of my day job, I could have a successful career as a property manager or real estate consultant!