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The Woman With the Iron Work Ethic

Pat Crawford, Board President, Garden Court

Resident since: 1973

Joined Board: 2002

Pat Crawford knows, from long experience, that a co-op board’s work is never done. Her experience dates all the way back to 2002, when she joined the board of her newly minted Housing Development Fund Corporation co-op, Garden Court, a pair of century-old buildings about a mile from Harlem Hospital Center, where Crawford was born 68 years ago and where she now works as a public health educator.

“In the beginning we didn’t have problems,” Crawford says of the co-op’s early years, when former renters suddenly owned their homes under a city-run program to rescue distressed properties. The board worked hard to get the finances in order while making needed capital repairs and hiring staff. Then the clouds rolled in. “We didn’t have problems until the tax problems,” Crawford says.

And those could have been lethal. Due a glitch in city record keeping, the 157-unit co-op was hit with crippling property tax bills that eventually mushroomed to $3.3 million. Working with property manager Josh Koppel, president of H.S.C. Management, the co-op hired a lawyer who managed to untangle the glitch, and the city wound up writing the co-op a life-saving $1.7 million check. But the fight with City Hall took its toll on Crawford and her 10 fellow board members. “There were rumors, a lot of talk,” she recalls. “People didn’t think the board had the ability and knowledge to run a corporation. But after the settlement,” she adds with a laugh, “people went back to their neutral corners.”

But this co-op board’s work was far from done. Fortunately Crawford, who had become board president, possesses an iron work ethic. Her father worked as a city bus driver and her late mother was as a respiratory nurse at Bellevue Hospital. After Crawford graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem and the College of Insurance in downtown Manhattan, she spent three decades as director of medical underwriting at the New York Life Insurance Company. It was after a brief retirement that she took her current job at Harlem Hospital and joined the co-op board. The board’s next big challenge after the tax snafu arrived on the day the sky started falling.

“One of our board members happened to be sitting outside in his car when we were having a storm,” Crawford recalls, “and he saw a little girl almost get hit on the head by a falling brick.”

Koppel was summoned and soon a protective sidewalk shed was in place while workers examined the facade. Due to shoddy workmanship when the city converted the building to a co-op, the crews discovered that as many as 200 brownstones were beyond repair and needed to be replaced. Today the building is swathed in netting as workers chip away at the $1.6 million job.

In years past, this unpleasant surprise could have been disastrous. But thanks to the tax settlement, income from the co-op’s flip tax, and the sale of more than a dozen vacant apartments, the board was able to meet this latest challenge. “We can handle it,” Crawford says with audible relief. The board, remembering the rumors and talk during the tax bill fight, called a special meeting to explain the project to shareholders.

Crawford moved into the building shortly after marrying William Crawford, a public school custodian, and they raised their two children here. Their son, also William, still lives in the building with his three children, while the Crawfords’ daughter, LaKisha, lives north of the city and works for a nonprofit near Wall Street. As she checks her mail in the lobby, Pat Crawford pauses to chat with neighbors and one of her granddaughters. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Garden Court has a family feel or that much of the credit belongs to the president of the co-op board.

“We’re a family here, the board and the residents,” Crawford says. “There’s a lot of trust because we’ve known each other for years. But being on a co-op board is a thankless job. Sometimes I feel like I do more work for the building than I do at my day job. People act like you’re the super and the property manager as well as a resident. I don’t know how I’ve survived. I’m tired.”

So why does she press on at an age when most people have retired?

“I like being on the board because I like the people I work with,” she says. “The reason I do it is because I plan to live here for the rest of my life. I do it for my friends and for my family and for anybody who needs help.”

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