As board president of Deepdale Gardens co-op in Little Neck, Queens, Shaun Carr has a Lincolnesque operating principle: you can’t please all of the people all of the time. It’s practical thinking, too, since Deepdale spans 60 acres and consists of 69 two-story buildings, containing 1,396 apartments. With more than 3,000 residents, it’s more of a village than a housing complex. Which presents the board with a significant challenge: juggling the sometimes competing needs of Deepdale’s youngest and oldest residents.
Incorporated in the early 1950s, it is one of the many co-ops built in Queens under Section 213, a federal government program instituted to provide affordable housing for World War II veterans. As those residents have aged over the decades, Deepdale has evolved into a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC), with more than 50 percent of owners aged 60 and over.
“We’ve been identified as a NORC since the 1990s, but at the same time we have a mix of people coming in,” says Carr. “There are singles, couples with children or who plan to have them, along with grown children of the original shareholders who have inherited their units. There’s been a lot of ebb and flow in our population, which makes it a real juggling act trying to meet the needs of all of our residents.”
It’s a juggling act many older condos and co-ops will be forced to emulate as more baby boomers opt out of assisted-living communities in favor of staying in their familiar apartments, where they live in close quarters with younger neighbors instead of fellow seniors. And those boards might do well to take a page from Deepdale’s playbook; Carr grew up there, as did his parents, which gives him a unique perspective on the co-op’s diverse demographics – children, young couples, the middle-aged, and the elderly.
“We know we can’t always make everybody happy, so we focus on what we can do,” says Carr. “That means making smart investments that enhance quality of life, increase property values, and benefit as many people as possible.”
Up to the Task
So far, Deepdale has proven up to the task. When the co-op set out to install a children’s water park last year, the board met with resistance from older residents. “We had recently renovated all nine of the existing playgrounds here, but I wanted to go further,” Carr explains. “As much as we want to serve our seniors, we have to do the same for young families to reinvigorate the community and attract new buyers.”
After he introduced the idea to board officers, they did research and solicited bids. Once they got the go-ahead from the full 13-member board for the $90,000 project, residents were informed through the co-op’s newsletter and a flyer, and invited to voice their opinions during the opening session of the monthly shareholder meeting. (The second part of each meeting is for the board only, when it tackles financial and legal matters, projects in the planning stage, and lawsuits filed by residents, which are relatively rare.)
Parents with young kids loved the park plan; older shareholders, not so much. “They felt it would be disruptive and noisy, and were worried about children running out into the nearby parking lots,” Carr recalls. “They pointed out that since there was a sprinkler park nearby, they didn’t want one in their backyard. There was definitely a NIMBY thing going on.”
The board made changes to accommodate those concerns, including strict, daytime-only hours, planting more shrubs and hedges so the park would be less visible, and adding benches on each side of the entrance where adults could keep a watchful eye on the kids. Centrally located on the Deepdale property, the 1,000-square-foot park has seven features, ranging from a small, bubbling fountain for toddlers to a splashier sprinkler tree for tweens. “It opened last June, and judging by attendance it was a huge success,” says Carr. “People would come up to me and say, ‘This is an excellent investment.’”
Another success story is Deepdale’s rock-solid financial condition. The co-op has been self-managed since the 1980s, when it also paid off its mortgage. But Deepdale never lowered its maintenance, allowing it to build up a fat reserve fund. And it has managed to do so despite soaring property taxes. The co-op now pays $4.3 million, a whopping $1.3 million increase from just three years ago. “The tax rate hasn’t changed, but the city has been hitting Deepdale really hard with huge valuation increases in the last several years,” says Stanley Greenberg, CPA, who has worked with the co-op since 1972 and became its sole accountant in 2000.
Deepdale has kept pace with mounting costs by imposing regular but incremental maintenance increases of under 10 percent a year. Because it doesn’t have a flip tax, the co-op’s $14 million annual operating budget is funded entirely with maintenance revenue, along with ancillary charges for such amenities as air conditioners, washer-dryers, dishwashers, and garage parking. “We always insist on a balanced budget that isn’t subsidized by our savings, which would be poor financial policy,” says Carr. Still, the co-op remains eminently affordable. The typical monthly maintenance for a three-room apartment is $627; for a five-and-a-half room unit – Deepdale’s largest – it’s $863.
Smart money management, in turn, means more capital improvements without imposing special assessments. Recent large-scale repairs include repointing the wall joints of the complex’s red-brick buildings, as well as replacing all of its aging roofs. Last year, the co-op started replacing its 25 boilers.
“We did just three of them, and plan to spread things out over the next six years,” says Carr. “We want to prevent emergencies by getting in front of the problem. But with all of our major repairs, we don’t want a huge outlay in one shot, which would be a burden on shareholders.” With a trifecta of no debt, no mortgage, and hefty reserves, “Deepdale probably has the healthiest finances of all of my condo and co-op clients,” Greenberg adds. “What else can you ask for?”
A Sense of Community
An added boon for shareholders is a new 2,800-square-foot community room, which is scheduled to open later this year. “We had a big empty space that was a former credit union on the lower level of one of our buildings,” says Carr. The $250,000 revamp included installing a new foundation, walls, and windows, as well as two new bathrooms, a kitchenette, an HVAC system, seating, and TVs. “People will be able to rent it for parties or book it for all kinds of activities: Zumba, a fitness class for seniors, a Super Bowl party, or [a party] for new shareholders,” Carr says.
“There’s even a pocket door in the middle of the room so you can hold two activities at the same time.” As part of its juggling act, the Deepdale board has also carved out a dedicated space for older residents. The co-op was approached in 2000 by the nearby Samuel Field YMHA, which had a received a grant from New York City’s Department of Aging to set up assistance programs for senior citizens.
“We began meeting with large co-ops in Queens [that] had a NORC community, hoping to partner with them,” says Karen Schwab, director of senior services at the Y. “But most boards were not willing to commit because the program required that they donate space and make an annual $25,000 donation.”
Deepdale was one of the first to sign on. “The board negotiated a no-cost lease for one of its spaces, and the Y got the building permits and paid for the renovation,” explains Geoffrey Mazel, a partner at Hankin & Mazel, who has been Deepdale’s attorney since 1998. The $100,000 makeover included extensive clean-up and the installation of heaters, and, since the room is slightly below ground level, steps and ramps. The Y uses the space for its “Deepdale CARES” program, providing hundreds of seniors with wellness services, including blood pressure monitoring, diet consultations, and fitness classes – all at no charge.
“We also provide chronic care for conditions like diabetes, which are often not covered by health [insurance],“ says Schwab. “Many seniors have stayed at Deepdale and others have sold their homes and moved there because of the program.” Over the years, the board has actively promoted “Deepdale CARES,” including sending out a monthly newsletter about services and social activities like card and game nights, arts and crafts classes, movie parties, and singing sessions. “It’s phenomenal for Deepdale’s seniors,” says Mazel, the attorney. “It’s become a meeting place to make new friends. It’s become a community unto itself.”
While Deepdale has done an admirable job meeting its multigenerational challenges, Carr knows there are more ahead. But he’s got the benefit of some insider knowledge. His parents, who left Deepdale and moved to nearby Jamaica Estates after they married in 1971, were lured back just four years later, when they purchased a five-room apartment for $5,000.
Carr, 37, an attorney at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler in Manhattan, has followed in their footsteps. After attending SUNY in Albany and Syracuse University, he returned to Deepdale in 2003 and lived with his mother until he bought a three-room unit in 2008.
“She still lives in the same apartment,” he says. “I’ve seen this place from childhood to adulthood, and all the changes it’s gone through. That gives me a unique perspective to really understand Deepdale, what we’re lacking and what’s enhanced by our efforts, especially at a time when our population is so diverse. It helps me make sure we keep moving forward.”