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Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

HABITAT

ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Taking Care of Business

Concourse Village Co-op

773 Concourse Village East, Bronx

 

The board at Concourse Village was at wits’ end. The sprawling prewar Mitchell-Lama complex was plagued by problems on every front, from badly needed facade repairs to an aging plumbing system to significant shareholder arrears. “We had been trying to build up our finances, but with our prior management companies it seemed we were just hemorrhaging money,” says Rosetta Kirkland, the co-op’s president. “We had to find someone new.”

Having prospective management companies tramping through the site amid the pandemic’s early days last spring, however, was the last thing anyone wanted. It didn’t take long for the 13-member board, which had started holding virtual monthly meetings that March, to come up with a solution: preparing a PowerPoint presentation detailing the co-op’s needs and showing it to all the management company candidates in one fell swoop at a Zoom meeting.

Easier said than done, as it turned out. The process involved lots of brainstorming sessions, many of which involved group walkthroughs of the nearly four-acre, 1,872-unit property, which consists of six 25-story towers perched on a platform over the former New York Central rail yards. The board turned to one of its new members, a photography buff named Dennis Boyd, to take hundreds of pictures that would vividly illustrate the condition of the physical plant, from the bowels of the boiler rooms to the parking lots to the rooftops.

“The presentation took months,” says Karen Reede, the recording secretary. The board was given a list of management companies that work with Mitchell-Lama developments. “We narrowed it down to the six that best met our requirements,” Reede says. These six were then invited to join the Zoom session.

The August 2020 meeting went off without a hitch. A 74-slide presentation was followed by a question-and-answer session. “This allowed bidders to hear the same information and gave everyone an equal footing,” says Michael T. Reilly, an attorney at Norris McLaughin who represents the co-op. “More important, it allowed them to comprehend the magnitude of the complex and grounds. From an efficiency standpoint, it just made sense.”

The attendees were given three weeks to submit their bids. Meanwhile, the board was doing its due diligence, researching the bidders, checking references, even making socially distanced visits to other properties managed by them.

After winnowing the field to three finalists, the board conducted in-person interviews and ended up hiring Bronx-based Prestige Management, which came on board in January 2021. “They had the most experience with the issues we are facing, which we explained to our shareholders,” Kirkland says. “We told them we’re confident that they know exactly what our community needs, but as they’re just starting out, we also asked people to be patient.”

Indeed, communication is a priority at Concourse Village. “We send out forms to our shareholders so they can submit questions, and then we disseminate the information back to residents,” says Vivian Lynette, a board member. “We have monitors in the lobbies where we put up information and robocalls that alert people when the water is going to be shut off or any other issue. When they know what’s going on, our community is happier.”

Compassion is high on the list as well. “We’ve told our shareholders to come and talk to management if they can’t pay their maintenance, because we’re fully aware that people have lost jobs due to COVID-19,” Lynette adds. “We even curtailed our late fees and passed out food.”

As for the long list of capital projects that lie ahead – including balcony repairs, installing backflow preventers and elevator modernization – the board is planning to start some of those later this year. “There are always going to be challenges,” Kirkland says, “but having new management is a huge step forward.”

 

 

Amalgamated Houses

8 Van Cortlandt Park South, Riverdale, Bronx

 

Way back in 2004, both boilers at the limited-equity Amalgamated Houses in the Bronx were on their last legs. The boilers had been installed in one of the 11 buildings that make up the 1,486-unit co-op in 1950, and after more than half a century of workhorse service, Ed Yaker, the co-op’s treasurer, put it this way: “They had been kept running with the magic of our boiler crew and engineers – and spit and glue.”

The board installed a new 1,200-horsepower dual fuel boiler that year, but before long a new complication cropped up. “The old boilers were supposed to be our backup,” Yaker says, “but they stopped passing emissions tests, and our insurance company no longer wanted to cover them. We knew that if we had to take the main boiler out for repairs, relying on them would be a disaster.”

In 2018, the two antiquated boilers were finally replaced, and a new combined-heat-and-power, or cogeneration system, was also installed. But the Amalgamated board didn’t stop there. It has embarked on an ambitious two-year project to install a state-of-the-art, energy-saving building management system. Interior and exterior sensors will be placed throughout the massive complex, feeding temperature readings to a central control hub that will automatically adjust the heat supplied to each building as needed. When the board conceived the project three years ago, before New York City had implemented Climate Mobilization Act requirements to reduce buildings’ carbon emissions, Amalgamated was ahead of the curve. “Replacing the boilers would have increased our overall efficiency by just 5%,” says Charles M. Zsebedics, the co-op’s general manager. “We are currently overheating our buildings, and when you do that, people tend to use the air conditioning. The real efficiency comes in being able to control how much you heat a building.”

As a limited equity co-op, Amalgamated faces extra hurdles when it comes to carrying out capital projects. “Everything we do has to be approved by the DHCR (Division of Home and Community Renewal) to make sure we’re complying with state regulations,” Yaker says. “And because they want to keep the apartments affordable and keep maintenance costs down, we have no reserve fund.”

Since 2013, the board has had to refinance its mortgage twice with the National Cooperative Bank to pay for some $50 million worth of repairs, including new roofs and facade work. “With a property of this age and size, and also being limited equity, it’s a tall order,” Zsebedics says. “But overall, we’ve accomplished a lot.”

And the board is already charging ahead with projects on its 2021 to-do list, which includes building a new horizontal gas piping system and repairing the concrete flooring in the underground garage, which will be financed with a $100 million loan from the investment firm CBRE and Freddie Mac. To comply with the Climate Mobilization Act, the co-op also plans to install solar panels, electrical submetering and geothermal heat pumps, which it hopes to finance with a collateralized, low-interest loan from the New York City Energy Efficiency Corp. or the state’s Green Bank.

Money will always be tight at Amalgamated, but when it comes to maintaining the 70-year-old complex, the board means business. “We’ll always be scrambling for money,” Yaker says, “but we want to be proactive, and not just with repairs but with our energy footprint. We want our co-op to be the best it can be.”

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