Frances Gonzalez was born and raised in Queens, where her father was a construction worker and her mother was a schoolteacher. The eldest of seven children – she gives her age as “forever 28” – Gonzalez is an actress who has appeared in Law and Order, Blue Bloods, and The Get Down. Her husband, Frank, also an actor, has appeared in numerous TV shows and movies, including The Italian Job and Saw II. The mother of an 11-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter, Gonzalez is the energetic and driven president of the homeowners’ association (HOA) board that oversees the clubhouse, outdoor pool and recreational facilities for Baybridge Townhomes, a three-condominium community in Bayside, Queens.
Habitat: Will you give up your work as board president when you get your big break in Hollywood?
Gonzalez: Oh come on, all artists put their careers first – but I would never abandon my community. I would see how I could balance it all. In the meantime, while I'm waiting, I will be involved in making changes.
Habitat: As HOA president you oversee the clubhouse. What exactly does your clubhouse offer?
Gonzales: It’s basically an amenity building for the three different condo complexes here. About 2,200 people live here in 664 units, and we all have access to the clubhouse. There is a big common room, a gym with saunas, rooms for fitness classes, an outdoor and an indoor pool, plus tennis, racquetball, and basketball courts. Upstairs and in the basement are offices for the three different management companies and spaces for the maintenance staff.
Habitat: Why did you want to get on the HOA board and deal with the clubhouse?
Gonzalez: The clubhouse was built 30 years ago, and our community has been waiting for it to be renovated. The wallpaper was peeling off, and the furniture was 30 years old, and it all looked, well, like it was from the ’80s. Mold was found in the indoor pool area, necessitating emergency repairs. Each household was assessed $750 for a supposedly planned $1.5 million renovation. People were very frustrated that they had to pay for the clubhouse when it wasn’t at full capacity for a year and a half. Something had to be done.
Habitat: Is that what propelled you to run for the HOA board?
Gonzalez: I wrote a complaint letter, and on Memorial Day 2017, I went around and put it on people's doors. I maybe gave out 300 papers. About 15 people wrote to me and said they felt the same way. I reached out to these people, and we discussed what we could do to rectify the situation.
They recommended that I run for the board. But the problem was we would’ve had to overturn the old board, and I needed people to run with me. I went to our annual meeting and paid attention to the people who were saying the same things I was saying. I approached them after the meeting, and I asked them if they would run with me, and they did. We won six seats on the nine-member board. That was very, very difficult, but we did it.
Habitat: What did you do first once you were on the board?
Gonzalez: The week we got elected in 2017, the management company for the HOA sent in its resignation. We had to interview management companies, and we decided on Akam Associates, who also manage one of the three condos. When we got on the HOA board, there was no book of the minutes, so I put them all in one book. It took me many, many hours to read all the minutes for the last seven years. I can’t tell you how many hours I've invested in this board – oh my goodness, it's like a part-time job!
Habitat: How did you learn the board business?
Gonzalez: I’m an actress, but I’m also a producer, so I’m a very organized person. My sister's an attorney, and she's very good at reading contracts and legal terms. I basically read the bylaws and the documents over and over and over again to educate myself. Then I would ask my sister for any type of legal advice or how to read something. Often boards leave it up to the management company to do everything, but boards should be hands-on to understand if the management company is doing its job.
Habitat: What are your major achievements since you joined the board?
Gonzalez: So far we renovated the community room in the clubhouse and some other areas for about $90,000 – without any assessment. Right now we’re in the middle of another all-over $200,000 renovation. That started in September and is also happening without any assessment. If you manage your budget carefully, you don’t need an assessment.
We've turned people around who used to come to meetings and yell and scream, "When are you going to fix this clubhouse? This clubhouse is falling apart!" One woman would come to every meeting and scream, "Here, I'll write you a check for a thousand dollars! Just fix it!" I saw her the other day, and I said, "Are you coming to the meeting?" She said, "I don't need to. You're fixing everything."