New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

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ARCHIVE ARTICLE

A Community Grows in Harlem

Michael Yormark, Board President
214 Bradhurst Ave.
Resident since: 2015

When Michael Yormark moved into his 24-unit co-op in Harlem in the winter of 2015, he knew the building had problems. The hallways were gloomy and in need of paint. Trash was piled up in the courtyard behind the building. Management was unresponsive. And many longtime shareholders in the 1980s-vintage affordable Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) co-op still referred to their monthly maintenance charges as “rent” – never a good sign.

Yet for all the complexity of the problems, Yormark saw a simple solution. Shareholders, in his view, needed to do a very un-New York thing: they needed to start acting like neighbors, like members of a community.The changes came gradually, small things at first. One day Yormark was cleaning up trash behind the building when a fellow shareholder offered to pitch in. Another day, he was building boxes to protect the trees in front of the building when another neighbor stopped to chat. Yormark was so devoted to fixing up the property that some of his fellow shareholders got the wrong idea. “People thought I was the handyman,” he says with a laugh.

He was not the handyman, but he was soon treasurer of the five-member board, pushing to make changes. “The board had been inactive – they just let things happen,” says Yormark, 28, who bubbles with energy and infectious enthusiasm. “There was a handyman who was on a retainer but also got paid by the job. He was drinking in the workshop in the basement, and he wasn’t good at what he was doing. He was an insurance liability waiting to happen. We fired him and then got rid of the management company. Just changing management was huge. People who were behind on their maintenance were afraid to talk to the board because they were afraid they were going to get evicted. People started coming out of their shells.”

Yormark, a Syracuse University grad who works in product innovation for a social media company in midtown Manhattan, soon started doing some deep digging. He pored through every bank statement going back three years. He discovered staggering overpayments for oil, erratic fees charged by the management company, and repeat payments to vendors. After hiring Issac Katz of Brooklyn-based A.M. Katz Management, the board began to turn things around. The back courtyard and side alleyways were cleaned up. Hallways were painted. LED light fixtures were installed in all common areas. The front doors were replaced, and the entryway was spruced up, with the newly adopted name “Park View” etched above the door – a tip of the cap to Jackie Robinson Park across the street. Aging security cameras were replaced with digital versions. The boiler’s fuel pump was replaced, bringing an immediate 25 percent savings on No. 2 oil bills. And all this was accomplished without raising maintenance or imposing assessments.

“It was just house cleaning and keeping an eye on what we were spending,” says Yormark, who is now board president. The co-op was barely in the black when he arrived, and last year it had an operating surplus of $92,000 – thanks partly to a 10-percent flip tax on profits from apartment sales. That income can be sizable. Many of the apartments were purchased for $250 back in the 1980s, when the neighborhood was notorious for rabid dogs and carjackings. The most recent apartment sale was for $415,000.

As the property improved physically and financially, the residents became more neighborly. “What encouraged people to become more social was that they saw people taking care of the building,” says Yormark. “It has turned into an incredibly social place. At our annual meeting last night, we stayed for two hours after the meeting, catching up with each other.” And Yormark has plans to keep the conversations going among his fellow shareholders, a mix of newcomers and old-timers, city workers, actors, professors, and entrepreneurs like himself. This spring the board will replace the roof and install a roof deck, open to all. The back courtyard will be dressed up and turned into a communal garden. A gym will be built in the basement near the existing storage lockers.

While seeing a visitor to the door the night after the annual meeting, Yormark spotted one of his neighbors, Joe Williams, Jr., the son of the super, making his way up the stairs. After a 21-year career as a police officer at Bellevue Hospital and other locales, Williams’ knees have grown balky. He was happy to take a breather.

The two neighbors wound up chatting for a while about the annual meeting, the coming improvements to the building, the community garden next door. Such conversations don’t happen in every New York City apartment building, but they happen all the time at the Park View, for a very simple reason: because, with a push from its board president, this co-op has become that rare thing called a community.

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