At the sprightly age of 90, Julius Mark is still working hard to make sure his co-op doesn’t backslide into the bad old days. Growing up in the Bronx during the Great Depression, Mark learned all about bad times. His father had emigrated from Antwerp, where he was a highly skilled diamond cutter, but in New York he had to go to work as a pleater in the garment district. He was happy to have the job at a time of staggering unemployment. Mark’s mother was a homemaker. Somehow, through hard work and sacrifice, the family weathered the Depression.
“I had a strong Jewish background,” Mark says with his gravelly voice, “and I saw how my parents sacrificed to make sure my older brother and I had enough to eat. I felt I owed something, and I made a vow that if I could contribute, I would do it. And that’s what I’ve done. I’ve been living in co-ops off and on since the 1950s, and I’ve used my financial background to serve as treasurer and things like that.”
Things like savior. When Mark moved into the Kings Point House Apartments, an 86-unit co-op on the shores of Manhasset Bay in Great Neck, in the 1990s, the property was flirting with disaster. The co-op board, intent on keeping maintenance costs low, neglected physical repairs, had no reserve fund, and carried woefully inadequate insurance coverage. To top it off, shareholders were paying about $90,000 a year in interest on the co-op’s interest-only $1 million mortgage. To cover repairs, the board had to borrow money.
“I thought they were in a vulnerable position,” says Mark, who attended Bronx Science High School and Baruch College before going to work as an accountant, then treasurer for two private corporations, finally retiring as a senior vice president of Morgan Stanley. It was a career built on a sharp eye for figures and a hard nose, and in 2008 it led Mark to agree to become treasurer of the seven-member co-op board at Kings Point House. He promptly got busy changing the co-op’s culture.
“The board had recently agreed to assess the shareholders in order to pay off the mortgage,” Mark says. “I thought it was the right thing to do. I also realized that if we converted from oil to natural gas, we’d reduce our energy costs.”
Through the assessment, moderate maintenance increases and careful budgeting, the board righted the ship. After the mortgage was paid off, the reserve fund blossomed to $350,000, adequate insurance policies were purchased, the boiler conversion was completed, reducing energy costs and further improving the bottom line. When shareholders started grumbling that they wanted their share of the $1 million assessment back, the treasurer had a curt response: “No way, Jose!”
His reasoning, borne of long experience in the world of finance, was simple: “You can’t run a business without reserves.”
In the fall of 2012, he was proven right. Hurricane Sandy sent the waters of Manhasset Bay surging into its basement and garage. The water licked the edge of Mark’s ground-floor patio before mercifully receding. The co-op had taken a $600,000 hit, but thanks to Mark’s hard nose and foresight, the shareholders were able to bounce back. A combination of insurance settlements, that healthy reserve fund and a $120,000 grant from NY Rising repaired the damage and began the rebuilding process. The board also hired a tax certiorari attorney, who won a $300,000 rebate from Nassau County.
Last year, an electrical engineer named Michael Tannenbaum was elected president of the board, and suddenly the long-discussed plan to renovate the aged lobby gained new life. So did plans to repoint bricks, beautify the entryway and spruce up the landscaping. “It helped that Michael came on the board, and we have two other board members who are familiar with construction,” Mark says. “We’re all workers, and we know what’s realistic. It’s not just about having money, it’s about spending it wisely. And guess what. We’re going to have $900,000 on our reserve fund after completing this work, which was necessary. My feeling is that when people see what the building looks like, it’s going to enhance the value.”
The days of shareholders grumbling about an assessment are now ancient history. “I feel they’re beginning to understand that if you have the money to spend, everyone’s better off in the long run,” Mark says. “You’re not spending money to hurt them, but to enhance the value of their investment.”
Mark retired from the financial world five years ago at the age of 85, and he and his wife, the former Claire Braverman, have five children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Which leads to the inevitable question: Does Julius Mark plan to step down from his co-op board any time soon? “I still like to keep my head going,” he says with a growly laugh. “God willing, I’m still willing to help. If you like what you’re doing, why stop?”