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The Old-School Butcher On the Co-op Board

Bill Oser, 58, has Queens in his bones. He grew up in Ozone Park, he now lives in Jackson Heights, and he works as an old-school butcher in a supermarket in Whitestone. Oser, known as Billy, takes pride in his work. When a customer says, “Billy, give me a two-inch porterhouse steak,” Oser will produce the exact cut in a minute, two at the most. Happily married for 25 years, Oser is now vice president and treasurer of his 144-unit co-op in Jackson Heights. He loves his work on the board but concedes that such a sentiment might be considered “a little nuts.”


Habitat: When did you move into the co-op?

Oser: I moved in here 19 years ago.

Habitat: What inspired you to join the board?

Oser: I think when the board initially interviewed me during the application process, they were really interviewing me as a possible candidate for the board. I’ve always been involved in community work, and the next thing I know, after I lived here for just one month, they were asking me if I wanted to intern on the board. 

Habitat: How does the intern program work?

Oser: People who are interested in becoming board members can sit in on board meetings as interns to see if they like this kind of work. Ultimately you will have to be voted in, of course. Some people come in with big plans. They want to do this, and they want to do that, and then after just one or two meetings they bail, saying they don’t want any part of this, that it’s just too much work. It’s a very demanding job, but it does interest me a lot, even though there’s not much of a thank-you.

Habitat: Has the Jackson Heights neighborhood changed since you moved here?

Oser: People are moving here from Manhattan because they can’t afford the rents in the city anymore. There are also a lot of people coming from Long Island because they can’t afford all the taxes, the gas, and all the charges of commuting into the city.

Habitat: How do these changes influence your co-op?

Oser: I think by now about 50 percent of the people in our co-op are younger people, like myself (laughs). Well, at least I was young when I moved here. Our board tries to please everyone, so we send out polls to see what people want. Of the 144 units, more than 100 were interested in having a gym, so we’re working on putting in a new gym. It’s not just the younger people who want a gym – older people want to use it as well. When I was younger, I coached basketball and baseball. I’m no Jack LaLanne, mind you, but I also intend to use the gym. We’ve been working on it for almost a year, and it was lot of work, but several people volunteered and got on the gym committee with me. Right now we’re in the process of getting the equipment in, and pretty soon we’ll be done with it. We also have a bike room.Habitat: As the treasurer and vice president, how do you see the financial standing of your building? Don’t all these new amenities cost a lot of money?

Habitat: How do these changes influence your co-op?

Oser: In the last two years we have spent about $1.5 million working on the building. We put in a new burner system, a new roof, and right now we’re renovating the second to fifth floors – new rugs, paint, everything. We will get new furniture for our lobby. We refinanced our mortgage a couple of years ago, and we have savings. If I remember this right, I think we had only one maintenance increase in the past 12 years.

We’re probably one of only two buildings here that still has a doorman. Doormen are expensive. With all the benefits, a doorman costs about $80,000 a year – and that’s a lot of money. Most of our maintenance goes toward labor, oil, and taxes. Those are the three big ones. But we’re good. I’m very happy with our building. Even our lawyer and accountant tell us that our building is one of their tops.

Habitat: What is the most important part about your work as a treasurer?

Oser: As a treasurer, one has to check everybody and everything. Management companies make mistakes, and sometimes the proposals from contractors are not what they say they are. You really have go over everything with a fine comb and make sure the decimal point is in the right place. I don’t trust anybody. I’m old-school.

Habitat: You seem to really like working on the board and living in the co-op. Why is that?

Oser: Oh, I like it at lot. I’m just interested in how a building is run. It’s a business. And we all live together; it’s really a community. We’re not just shareholders who own it, we’re more like a family, and we’re all friends. Everybody looks out for everybody. We have several committees. The more people help out, the more they feel involved. And they all make the place a better place to live.

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