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When the Facade Starts Falling

Hamilton Place
Manhattan

Vincent Joseph, board president

Vincent Joseph comes off as pretty low-key for a man whose building nearly fell down last summer. “You could see a gap between the structural wall and the façade,” Joseph says about a section of his 100-year-old property’s façade. “A part of it was separating.” 

The crisis began on August 5 at 94-102 Hamilton Place, a 54-unit, two-building co-op in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, where Joseph is board president. When a renter noticed the separating façade, he called Joseph, who contacted the super and sent him to take pictures. Later, the super, Joseph, and Frank Negron, the managing agent, went to investigate in person. Negron then called Josh Koppel, his boss and president of HSC Management, and Koenigsberg Engineering, which sent a field engineer to investigate. The field engineer recommended a sidewalk bridge be erected to protect pedestrians. Koenigsberg contacted the Department of Buildings, which in turn called the police. Fearing a collapse, the police ordered the streets surrounding the building closed.

Throughout the unfolding crisis, Koppel recalls, Joseph was constantly on the phone, “going over proposals, moving as fast as possible to do the right thing and get this stuff taken care of.” And there was plenty to take care of. First, a contractor worked through the night, “strapping in” the building. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Koppel. “He took a steel wire and wrapped it around the outside of the building, through the windows, cutting through people’s floors and walls and around columns and securing the façade so that it wouldn’t fall and kill somebody.”

The contractor worked all night, took a break, and worked until the following day. No one was evacuated. No one was injured. Disaster was averted – and the repair job could begin. Joseph moved into the building as a renter in 1997 and purchased his apartment in 2005. After two years as treasurer and in his third as president of the co-op’s five-member board, Joseph has learned to expect anything and be ready for everything. Thin and tall, Joseph is “down to earth,” according to Koppel, a man who approaches each problem with a critical but "understanding” eye. Joseph, who immigrated to New York from the West Indies in 1984, adds, “As the president, I moderate the meetings. There’s a lot of dissemination of information. Since I work closely with management, I report a lot to the board.”

Joseph never expected to be a leader – certainly not of a co-op that is tax-subsidized as part of the city’s Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC). The property became a co-op in 1984, the same year Joseph arrived in Manhattan looking for opportunities. “I wanted to go to school, and then work, making a higher income than I could in the West Indies,” says Joseph, 50. After earning a degree in business, Joseph eventually ended up at a company that developed litigation support software. “I was a specialist training lawyers, paralegals, and litigation support people, and every now and then, some professional person like an engineer,” he says. “In addition to that, I made presentations of the software at trade shows. I worked as part of the team to make sure that everything flowed seamlessly. Sometimes, I worked as team leader.” That training came in handy when Joseph joined his co-op board. He likes the property partly because of its diversity, he says. “We have blacks, Hispanics, and whites – senior citizens, working people, and young people.”

The exact cost of the façade repairs is not yet known. “Since we do not know exactly how much of the façade has to be removed, it’s difficult to get exact numbers,” Joseph says. “We’re working on getting everything done quickly because the winter is coming.” Even the low-key president seems stressed by the ordeal. “The most challenging thing about being president is that everybody expects you to solve the problems,” he says. Then, with a laugh, he adds, “You have to have patience, and you have to have a sense of humor. That helps you keep your sanity.”

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