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Showing Up Means You Care

Amy Markovitz, former board president

Rocky Hill Terrace, Bayside, Queens

Originally from Bayside, Amy Markovitz went to college and graduate school in Boston, and moved back home when she was done with school. She was renting in Kew Gardens and then subletting in the 234-unit Rocky Hill Terrace cooperative before she ended up buying there. “The co-op was a nice complex, well maintained, close to public transportation, and near my family.” The building, managed by Kaled, has an annual budget of $4.2 million. She worked in the city at the time as a healthcare administrator. She joined the board in 2000, and served fifteen years, five as president, before stepping down in June to move to Canada.

What were some of your earliest influences?

Both my parents are in academia. Both are professors. I majored in psychology and sociology. Then, I ended up getting a master’s in social work. I did clinical work for a few years. I moved back to New York when I turned 30 because I was offered a job that I couldn’t say no to, opening up a tuberculosis treatment center at Goldwater Memorial Hospital. I had done something similar in Boston, which was the first program of its kind in the country, so I was recruited to run the Goldwater program. When I moved back to New York, I came back to my roots. I worked for the city at that hospital. I got a master’s in public administration and ended up branching into more of the private sector. I did nonprofit hospital work for a long time, probably for eight years or so.

 

Did you have these specific career plans when you went to college, or was it something that happened after college?

No. After college, I decided I wanted to get a job helping people. I didn’t know what that meant or how it would play out. I actually worked in a halfway house for the mentally ill and did overnight shifts. It was my first job after college. I thought, “Holy cow, I really need to get some education behind this work,” because I was pretty much left on my own. I had 13 schizophrenic men and women that I worked with in the halfway house. Nothing prepares you for that if you have just a college degree.

 

It must have been harrowing.

It was interesting. I still remember I had one guy climb out on the roof at two o’clock in the morning. I thought, “Holy cow, what do I do?” I talked him off the roof. I stayed in that job for a while and decided I really wanted a little bit more education [in] what I was doing. I went to grad school for social work and did counseling, couple’s therapy, and group therapy for a few years.

 

How did that working life prepare you for taking on board responsibilities?

Nice segue. I think my clinical skills helped me deal with personality issues that you can get on a board, and my people skills [helped as well]. We have a decent board, very different personalities, very different styles [but] more or less everybody respects [one another].

 

Why did you want to serve on the board?

I didn’t. [laughs] Somebody who was on the board at the time approached me and said, “Would you like to be on the gardening committee?” I thought, “Well, that’s relatively benign. I like to garden. Okay, I’ll give it a try.” The gardening committee was pretty much nonexistent. I very quickly found out that there was a lot more to it. I stayed because I believe in managing my investment. Once you learn what’s involved in terms of refinancing a property mortgage, managing the staff, dealing with managing agents, dealing with annual taxes, dealing with repairs, things like that – once you get involved it’s very hard to walk away from it, unless someone else is replacing you who knows what they’re doing or who cares as much. You realize that the property runs, basically, on the shoulders of a few people.

 

Were there any leadership lessons that you relied on in carrying out your board duties?

It’s important to make sure everyone has a say and that everyone gets to speak their mind even if they don’t particularly want to. Just the act of people showing up means that they care, but it can be intimidating if one or two people talk or shoulder all the responsibility. I think one of the most difficult things has always been getting people to be involved and then maintain that involvement.

 

How do you do that?

I beg, cajole...no. [laughs] I rule and lead by example. I remind people that they have to make decisions based on not only what’s good for them but [also] what’s good for the whole corporation. Particularly when we talk about money, maintenance increases, or property assessments, discussions can get pretty heated. Managing someone who is reacting personally and guiding them toward acknowledging those feelings, putting them in the corner for a minute, and focusing on what the building actually needs to run [is] difficult. I think I did it well.

 

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced at your building?

Lack of involvement, actually. The building staff are okay. The union can be difficult to deal with, but not impossible. The property is maintained well. We have very low turnout at annual meetings. Everyone likes to complain, but nobody likes to actually take responsibility. Even if I had chosen to not be board president, there was no one to replace me. I sent out a few desperate pleas for board volunteers and board members in the past two years. A couple of months ago I sent out [a message saying], “Several members of your board are going to be leaving and moving, and there will be nobody left to manage the property.” I didn’t put it quite that bluntly, but almost. “This is an emergency. We need volunteers.” Then we got three good people.

Desperation works.

Exactly. I think people just get so stressed out with their regular life responsibilities that if things are working well they don’t want to be bothered. I understand because it’s a time commitment and an intellectual [one as well]. You have to learn things you might not know [how to do]. In my career I do budgets and handle staffing issues. Right now, I run a medical office site. Everything that you have to do with a co-op dealing with different vendors I do in my work. Not everybody does. Financial experience helps, and staff management experience helps.

 

What accomplishment as board director are you most proud of?

Keeping my sanity. We’ve done a few things. We’ve refinanced twice. We’ve converted from oil to gas and averted some unnecessary major work. [We did] a roofing project. We got through [those things], learning about them, and actually having [the process] work. It’s important to be invested in the property that you live in and to know what’s going on because it widens your perspective and gives you a healthy respect for what’s involved in maintaining a property. That knowledge can help you whether you end up being a homeowner in a private house, whether you stay here, or whether you move onto a different co-op. It gives you a sense of what is involved in maintaining a personal property. It’s good to know your neighbors, and this is a way of doing it. It’s important to care.

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