New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue

HABITAT

ARCHIVE ARTICLE

The House That Jimmy Carter Didn’t Build

In April 1982, I took my third full-time job. It was at a new publication called N.Y. Habitat. In addition to writing for Diversion and The Westsider, I had previously worked as an editor at two magazines – Firehouse and Americana – before coming to N.Y. Habitat. I started on issue No. 2, and although we didn’t quite know what the magazine was about – which is why those early issues featured woodworking and wine columns – we were lucky enough to get through the first year intact. (Eventually N.Y. got dropped from the title.)

We learned something, though. People living in cooperatives and condominiums yearned for news they could use about how to run their buildings. We did stories on subletting and security, on flip taxes and forensic accounting, and our readers applauded. It helped, too, that Carol Ott, the publisher, and I were both living in co-ops at the time, and as we faced issues in our homes, we found the answers we needed in our stories. There might have been a simpler way to do it, but it probably wouldn’t have been as much fun.

In my time at Habitat, I’ve learned many things, including the fact that managers like to refer to the magazine as The Habitat, and that the majority of people out there seem to think that Jimmy Carter builds houses for us.

I’ve also discovered that raising the maintenance is responsible but foolhardy and hurts sales by raising the cost of living – except when it helps sales because it shows that the board is responsible. It’s also been my experience that shareholders and unit-owners are generally apathetic, which is a good thing because it shows that the board is doing something right or else it is a bad thing because the board can’t get a quorum for its annual meeting. But you can get a quorum if you redesign the lobby, which is generally considered the most controversial action a board can undertake – unless it consults with everyone in the building to get a “consensus” lobby that everyone agrees on and no one likes, and which now must be redesigned.

Proxies are essential for annual meetings, which can be boring affairs, except if everyone is talking about lobby redesign or maintenance increases, in which case the board members probably wish they could send in their proxies instead of attending. As for monthly board meetings, having them after dinner makes everyone more relaxed, which means that they go on forever, but they are better than morning meetings, which are too high-pressured because everyone has to leave for work, but which are better than no meetings at all, which happens when you can’t get enough board members to agree on a meeting date.

Remember, too, that the super is the “captain of the ship,” except when you have to create a 32BJ-sanctioned paper trail to sack him for incompetence.

Finally, board presidents always spend decades on the board, saying they hate serving and insisting they would gladly step down, except that no one (a) will let them, or (b) knows enough to take over, or (c) wants to serve, or (d) will serve unless they can redesign the lobby and cut maintenance.

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