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Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

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ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Wanted: Greener Pastures, One Cash Cow

Tim Saia
President, 329 West 21st Street, Manhattan

 

Wanted: Greener Pastures, One Cash Cow

Imagine my surprise: when I stepped down as president and left the co-op board five years ago, we had $50,000 in our money market account, and when I returned to that glorious throne this year, we had a projected budget deficit of $14,000 and no reserves.

Many whimsical explanations ran through my head. For one thing, I began to suspect that the recent rash of robberies in our neighborhood was caused by our newest members. My mind raced through the scurrilous individuals who moved into our charming 11-unit brownstone in Chelsea. Was it the married doctor couple? Was it the vice president of a major financial institution? Or was it simply that our loot had been secretly buried in the private courtyard to which only two people had legal access? It was fun to picture these dicey scenarios and how they’d look splayed all over the New York Post once uncovered. In any event, our money was gone. Forever.

As I tossed and turned through many a sleepless night wondering how we’d pay for a new façade (among other things), only one thing rang through my mind: we’re broke. Flashes of future media reports of a loose brick hitting a 99-year-old grandmother innocently hobbling past our home plagued my waking hours too.

After reviewing the financial records of the past two years, I realized my slanderous and often bloodthirsty feelings toward my house mates were not justified, and that the culprit was New York City itself. Somehow during the five-year span of my absence from the board, the city raised our taxes. That, along with black and expensive tiles that grace our foyer, punctured the bubble of stability and threatened the peaceful coexistence of our humble – but shamelessly trendy – abode.

As the reappointed president, I called an emergency meeting and demanded the participation of all shareholders. I broke the news. Shock waves rippled through the crowd, tears fell freely, and the heat was on. Remedies had to be proposed. I knew deep in my heart that an assessment or maintenance hike was imminent but opted to start small. We stopped all capital improvements and even sold two cast-iron planters, but everyone soon realized that we could not sustain our current level of expenditures and that belts would have to be tightened.

The real heartbreak came two months later when the board voted to increase individual maintenance $1 per share, the very first raise in our building’s 39-year history as a co-op. It seemed like a fair and even friendly way to lower the boom. With a gulp, this measure was accepted by all. We’re now on our way back to greener financial pastures.

I still have sleepless nights riddled with nightmares of the other shareholders with torches and pitchforks, breaking down my door chanting, “Down with the dictator.” Sure, I feel marginally guilty for being the one who “did it.” But it had to be done. And, in my darkest hours, I comfort myself with the knowledge that our annual board elections are right around the corner! At that point, you might find me in a rubber room at Bellevue.

So, if you discover yourself in my position, tread lightly. The stinging, burning wrath of a vexed shareholder should be avoided at all times.

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