You could say that public service is in Damion Stodola’s blood. The Canada native earned a law degree at McGill University in Montreal before moving to New York City in 2001. While living in his first co-op, Stodola, who works as an attorney for the city, stepped up to serve on the board. He did the same after moving into 2600 Henry Hudson Parkway, a six-story, 25-unit condominium in Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx, where he has been the treasurer for the past four years. Stodola spoke with Habitat about the rewards of board service — and the challenges, which can sometimes be exhausting.
Real deal. In 2017 my partner and I were living in a small co-op on the Upper West Side and needed more space. We looked throughout the city and found that Spuyten Duyvil had the most value for the money. We’re on the second floor overlooking a little park, and with windows on three sides we are bathed in sunlight. There’s definitely more space between us and the next-door neighbor than there used to be, which makes living wall-to-wall much easier. It’s also an easy work commute — a 26-minute train ride to Grand Central. All of that sold us on leaving the wonderful borough of Manhattan behind.
Arm-twisting. When the board first approached me to join them, it was a hard no. I was a board member at the Upper West Side co-op, and because it was just 10 units, being a point person for people’s requests and demands and misdirected frustrations could be emotionally taxing. But the board members here were extremely nice and extremely persuasive, and I felt it would have been a bit churlish to reject their entreaties. Since I’m a lawyer, I started helping out by bringing in new counsel and reviewing our bylaws. After less than a year at the building, I joined the board as treasurer.
Heating up. The first big project I worked on was upgrading our boiler system. We’re not a new building, unlike most condos here, and our original oil boiler from 1941 conked out. We brought in an engineer independent of the managing agent to ensure the integrity of the bidding process. He told us the boiler couldn’t be repaired. We decided to replace it with a dual-fuel boiler, which was a huge capital expenditure. We’ve got good reserves but figured the most prudent thing to do was to take out a $450,000 loan. As a small condo, it’s not easy to get financing compared to buildings with hundreds of units. It came down to Capital One and the National Cooperative Bank. Capital One offered a market-competitive rate, so we went with them.
Hiccup-free. Installing a dual-fuel boiler was somewhat complicated because we had to get Con Edison to hook up the gas feed, but everything went smoothly. We rented a temporary trailer boiler, so there was no interruption in service. Now we’re pretty excited. We got a B energy rating, which is better than a lot of buildings our age in the neighborhood, and we’re anticipating significant savings. We did have to impose an assessment that residents will pay off in five years. Unit-owners were given the option to prepay the entire amount at the outset in order to reduce the overall interest on the loan. Our maintenance is very reasonable, so there were no complaints.
Greater good. Our building has a mix of people, with lots of aging-in-place residents who were here before it became a condo, and young professionals and families with children, which means we have to be responsive to every demographic. That’s one reason we switched managing agents in August 2021 to Ferrara Management Group. We don’t have a super. As an older building, problems pop up, and we needed a managing agent who could quickly respond to all our unit-owners. Many aren’t tech-savvy and haven’t gone virtual at all and still use snail mail. We need service for them as well as for our newer residents who can communicate with a managing agent online.
Questions, questions. The process of selecting a management company took a while. We got referrals from professionals we work with and did two rounds of pretty robust interviews with companies that submitted bids. It was critical for me for people to visit, and we had tours where I walked them through the property so they could see everything. We wanted someone who could walk us through compliance issues — like the periodic elevator inspections — what laws apply, and how to deal with city and state regulations.
Unfamiliar waters. Like every building in New York, we’re dealing with climate change. We’re not a low-lying property, but we were still impacted by the heavy rains and flash floods we’ve been having. We have a parking lot that’s a little below street level, and there was a huge runoff because of the overflowing in our area. We’ve started to think about putting in a secondary draining system and making sure we’ve got pumps so we’re equipped to handle overflow in the elevator shaft. We didn’t suffer any leaks with the roof, but when it comes time to repair or replace it, we worry about additional projects that will have to be done. There are so many more things that up to this point haven’t been on our radar screens.
To re-up or not to re-up? To be honest, I’m a little drained because the board had to work exceptionally hard throughout the pandemic, and I decided to leave the board a month ago. I think cycling through board memberships is always a good thing, but it’s not easy getting people to sign up. We meet monthly, there’s a lot of material to go through, and there’s a steep learning curve. That certainly was the case for me. But a unit-owner who hasn’t served on the board yet asked to join, and I figured this was my ticket to some R&R.