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Taking on the Status Quo

Bev Machtinger, board president

The Claridge

Great Neck, Long Island

Bev Machtinger is a realist: she loved her new home but after moving in, came to realize there were problems.

She had looked at an apartment in The Claridge, a 53-unit, four-story co-op on 50 Hill Park Avenue in Long Island. The unit was just what she wanted, but she was equally impressed by the amenities: there was a laundry room on every floor; in-wall air conditioners versus in-window air conditioners; each apartment controlled its own heat; and the garage was on the street level as opposed to underground.

But after attending her first annual meeting in 2005, Machtinger, a financial analyst by day, recognized the building was in trouble. She felt “that this board really wasn’t managing the building properly. They had done something in the bookkeeping that I saw really didn’t make a lot of financial sense on the annual report and then when I asked questions at the meeting, I didn’t really get good answers. Even the accountant that they were using wasn’t well-versed in co-ops and condos. I realized that it was time to get on the board,” she says matter-of-factly, believing that the best way to find answers was to get inside. And she was elected.

What she found when she began serving in 2006 was a long-serving, strong-willed president who “really controlled the building, with the rest of the people being ‘yes’ people. That was my interpretation of what was going on. I didn’t think the rest of the board was confident enough [to fight him]; they were all [recruited] by the president.”

Feeling that she needed to know more to achieve more, she attended, at her own expense, the annual housing conference staged by the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums. She sat in on financial seminars and “realized that this board really needed some redirection of the finances.” She came back and told them what she had learned.

The response was chilly. “We have been doing it this way, and this is how we will keep doing it,” the president said.

“Whether it was right or wrong they didn’t really care; they were going to do what they wanted to do,” Machtinger notes. “For instance, we didn’t have a balanced budget, and we were using money from the reserve fund to make up the deficit, which was a big, big no-no. That was the first thing I learned at the conference. Their response was: ‘We have plenty of money; we know what we are doing; you can’t teach us anything; we are going to do what we want.’ And it was then that I learned that the managing agent had been arguing with them to balance the budget all the time, but it was the board who was resistant. Of course, they didn’t want to raise maintenance, and they wanted to look like good guys. In the meantime, the roof was leaking, and there were many issues that needed to be addressed in the building.”

Machtinger found one supporter of her position on the board, while the other five members stood firmly against her. “We were able to convince them that they had to at least raise maintenance somewhat because we couldn’t be in a deficit, and then we kind of just sat there and watched.”

Things changed, however, when the president was forced to step down because of illness and a majority of new members in line with Machtinger’s views were elected. They chose her as the new president “and then we sort of had a mission,” she notes.

“The first thing we did was take care of the financial situation, which was not really well-received, of course, but we made sure we had a balanced budget. We made sure we were in compliance with our covenants for mortgage, and then we proceeded with a balanced budget by raising maintenance. A lot of things just fell in our path, part of which was the high price of natural gas that continued to decline.” That saved the building money that went into the reserves.

The roof was repaired and a flip tax was redirected: “The board was using the flip to balance the budget, and we switched that policy completely and all of the flip tax money was now going into the reserve fund. I was very mindful of putting as much money as we could in that reserve fund all the time, and it slowly, slowly crept up because I would say we get somewhere about $10,000 a year on flip tax money.”

The building also refinanced “at a really great rate,” says Machtinger, and with the essential financial and operating issues under control, the board felt it was time to turn to a major eyesore: the lobby. With a drab décor and dimly lit hallways, it was not inviting. Its terrazzo flooring created a cold, commercial atmosphere. “It was bad, bad, bad,” says the board president. “All of it had to go.”

The project planning began in 2012 and the work started in earnest when the building refinanced its mortgage in 2013. Many of the residents are younger “city people” with a corresponding sensibility, notes Tina Tilzer, owner of Art & Interiors in Syosset, who remodelled the lobby. “They know about fashion and design and what’s going on in the city. And they wanted their building to reflect that.”

So the terrazzo flooring was covered over with porcelain tiles resembling real stone. Textured wall coverings were put up throughout the lobby and hallways, as were custom lighting fixtures. Wood moldings were used to create architectural details. The colors used throughout the space were muted tones, such as taupe and cream. This “created a contrast with the bright, vivid colors in the artwork,” says Tilzer. “It really made a statement.”

When it came to the art, members of the design committee pored over countless magazines and brought in Anita Abrams, an art consultant from Dix Hills. In the end, the committee sourced four of the six paintings, with Tilzer and Abrams securing the other two.

“It’s transformed our building,” says Machtinger. “The energy in the building has changed. I knew we had done something special when the hardest-to-please resident came up to me with a big smile on her face and said, ‘I love it.’”

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