New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Ode to a Co-op

Daniel C. Prebutt
Verrazano Residents
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Let me tell you a tale. It’s a heartwarming story of a co-op board – the way it’s supposed to be. It all began in 2004 when I moved to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, after a lifetime in a central Queens neighborhood. My family had lived there since 1940, and then suddenly, the neighborhood just died. It was nothing that could be seen, but rather something that was felt.

Vibrant Bay Ridge was reminiscent of my community’s former glory. With its mom and pop stores, bake sales, and strong community involvement, the neighborhood was sure alluring. When a Starbucks moved to this town and threatened the livelihood of a locally owned coffee house, the angry neighborhood folk boycotted Starbucks until it locked its doors and rode off into the sunset. You don’t see that very often. Involvement, cooperation, and pride – community values increasingly lost in America. They were here.

Soon enough, my wife, daughter, and I made the trek from Queens to Brooklyn and the water’s edge, becoming property owners for the first time in a cooperative apartment building. I felt the need to get involved, and fired off a neatly typed, carefully worded letter to each board member, offering my services should an opening arise. They still joke about that letter to this day. It seemed a rarity for someone to actively seek out a board position.

It wasn’t that there was a sense of lethargy or a lack of cooperation among the shareholders of this 72-unit building, but rather a complete trust and confidence in the six-member board. The seventh member, a sponsor, was quite invisible but no one ever complained. Why would they? For this was a co-op board that dreams are made of, a cooperative co-op board.

I attended my first shareholders’ meeting and apparently there were no challenges to the standing board at each annual election. The few people complaining directed their gaze to the floor each time an invitation for new candidates was extended. The finances were good, the building had no serious problems, and the shareholders were content. It was also my good fortune that a board member had just resigned.

After being interviewed and accepted, I wondered what lay ahead at the board meetings. Would there be theatrics and drama? I heard rumors about chairs being thrown at some meetings in Brighton Beach.

But, this was not the case. In my first year on the board, there was some table pounding, a few shrill monologues, an expletive or two. But there has been none of the politicking, partisanship, and backroom deals so common to larger houses of government. Instead, I have seen the unique human ability to set personal beliefs and desires aside so a higher calling for common good could take precedence. You see, we truly have been a cooperative board.

The co-op board is one of the most basic forms of government, and perhaps each politician should attend one meeting per year for a reality check. None of us serve for personal gain, favor, or power, but rather to fulfill our civic duty. This is hardly surprising since our board consists of two teachers, a student counselor, a fireman, a park ranger, and a mortgage broker, all professions that in one way or another assist others.

Oh, there have been challenges, but always from outside like legal threats, vermin invasion, acts of God, and that rotten kid who jumps his skateboard off our steps. Each time we have been resolute in our action and united as a team. You see, the key to our team’s victory is cooperation.

Ah, yes, our cooperative. We’re a happy bunch. I’d love to write a song about it, like “O’, Cooperative!” Hmm, I hope the Canadians don’t get ruffled.

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