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Habitat Magazine October 2020 free digital issue

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ARCHIVE ARTICLE

The Long and Winding Road to Forest Hills

Tammy Jacobi took the roundabout route to her co-op in Forest Hills, Queens. Her long journey began in Mumbai, India, where she was born a few years before the country gained independence from Britain in 1947. The daughter of successful furriers who had fled the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik revolution, she attended British schools in Mumbai, where Irish nuns and Indian teachers taught her to speak English, Hindi, and French.

In 1963 the family moved to Israel, where Tammy met and married a man named Michael Jacobi, who was working in his family’s pearl business, which was headquartered in Milan. The newlyweds moved there, and after the birth of a son, the family moved to Pforzheim, Germany, known as the Golden City because of its thriving jewelry and watch-making industries. There, on the edge of the Black Forest, Tammy worked alongside Michael and gave birth to a daughter. Then, after a brief stint in Los Angeles, the family finally landed in Queens, where they bought a three-bedroom apartment in the recently converted 166-unit Park Briar co-op, which had been built as a rental property by a developer named Fred Trump.

“Our son and daughter were among the few kids in the building back then,” recalls Jacobi, who joined the seven-member co-op board in 2009 and became president five years ago. “Today we have a lot of families with kids – and from varied ethnic backgrounds. I love to get to know their cultures. We have Muslims and Jews, Chinese and Koreans. Even people from Manhattan!”

Until her retirement last year, Jacobi commuted to Manhattan, where she and Michael ran a business in the Diamond District that sold precious stones, platinum, and 18-karat gold to jewelry retailers. She also designed jewelry. Life on 47th Street can be hard-edged, but Jacobi tried to take a soft approach.

“I love to connect with people,” she says. “In business, I always approached people trying to figure out how I could help them. When retailers came to our shows, they would ask if I could change a ring. I said yes. One asked if I could reduce the price of a ring. I told him to take it on consignment, and he did. Then he came back and ordered four more.”

Running a co-op is another story. “Dealing with shareholders is a more difficult task,” says Jacobi, who now has 17 grandchildren. “One person vents, then it becomes a group venting together. I call them frequent fliers – because they’re always flying off the handle. It’s the same people who complain. They’re unhappy campers. If we have to raise maintenance because costs are rising, they say other buildings don’t raise maintenance. I tell them we’re an upscale building, then I tell them to stop complaining and come on the board.” So far, none of the frequent fliers has taken her up on the offer.

To keep complaints to a minimum, the seven board members – all women – try to stay attuned to shareholders’ desires. “We are transparent,” Jacobi says. “We send out surveys to see what shareholders want. For instance, when the roof of the underground garage sprang leaks, we asked what people wanted on top of the rebuilt roof – a garden, pavers, plain concrete?” The cost-conscious shareholders voted for the third option.

“Once a month,” Jacobi says, “the board has an open office hour with shareholders, and I give shareholders my cellphone number. If they have a problem, they can call me. If I can’t help them, I’ll call our property manager, Scott Soifer. When people call, he’s there – or he calls them back. He’s so efficient and detail-oriented, and he lets us know if we need outside help. The two best things that have happened to this building were hiring his company, Charles H. Greenthal Management, and the law firm Hankin & Mazel.”

Jacobi refers to her six fellow board members as “power women,” adding that “we do our job quietly, we don’t boast, we do a lot behind the scenes.”

“I make it my business to sit down with our resident super, Arthur Milla, and go through current items that need to be addressed,” she says. “When we had a leak coming through the gym floor, the new floor we put down was uneven. It was a trip hazard, so we got the contractor to come back in and redo it.”

Such attention to detail has guided the various projects the board has undertaken in recent years, including a lobby makeover, replacement of 1,325 windows, and upgrades to the elevators, intercoms, security cameras, hallways, gym, laundry room, and landscaping. Jacobi, an elegant dresser, is especially proud of the manicured front entrance, a big part of the co-op’s “wow factor.” Of course some shareholders weren’t happy about having to pay for so many improvements, and some of them are already rebelling against redoing the garage roof, which is scheduled for springtime and is expected to cost at least $500,000.

Jacobi’s goal, as always, will be to keep the peace. She’ll explain to shareholders that spending money on such improvements is necessary – and it raises the value of their apartments. “We want people to be happy,” she says. “I hate fights. I try to get along with everybody – even the devil.”

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