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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Board President Angela Hirsch on What Makes the Saxony Special

Angela Hirsch, a peripatetic London native, moved first to Paris, where she worked for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and then to Israel. In 1980 Hirsch came to New York, got a temporary job at the United Nations and was planning to pack her bags once again for California — until she met her future husband and moved into his apartment at the Saxony, a six-story, 100-unit building in Forest Hills, Queens. It went co-op in 1983, and three years later Hirsch became board president. She still holds the post, and she spoke with Habitat about her long tenure.


Window pain. It all started nearly 40 years ago with a loose window. One of our bedroom windows kept sliding down, and the only way I could keep it open was to prop it up with a bamboo stick, which was driving me nuts. I said to my husband, “The board keeps talking about getting new windows, so I want to find out what’s going on.” The board meeting was in the apartment around the corner from ours. I went, and before I knew it I was on the board. When the president left, I got the job. And I’m still here.


Done and done. We did replace all the windows, as well as our original steam boiler from the ’50s. There was a problem where part of the building was hot and part of the building was cold, but now we use dual-fuel to heat our radiators, which are thermostatically controlled. All of the lighting was switched to LED, inside and out. All of that is saving us a lot of money, and as far as our compliance department is concerned, we are well ahead of the game. Our most recent energy grade was 95, and we don’t have to worry about anything when it comes to meeting the new targets. I am a very proactive person, and my philosophy is that prevention is better than cure. So I definitely stay ahead of all the rules and regulations. 


Grassroots. I have to say that out of all the projects we’ve undertaken, my favorite is our back garden. You come out of our garage entrance, and there are a few steps up to the building, and it was all rocks and rubble. We had all of it removed and put in trees and gorgeous planters and a lawn area. There’s also a patio with tables and chairs. It’s really the most lovely little space. I can see it from my window on the second floor, and when I see people out there enjoying it, it’s a real pleasure.


By the numbers. I will confess that my biggest disappointment was not being able to convince shareholders to agree to a bylaw change allowing a flip tax to help build our reserves. But as it turned out, people here almost never move out, and I can’t even remember the last time we had a sale. And our finances are in good shape. We’ve had a few assessments — the most recent one was after we did facade repairs a few years back. Our last maintenance increase in January 2020 was 1%, and we are proposing another 1% increase this year. During my time on the board, I have insisted that we have an annual increase of no more than 2%.


Upward and onward. We’re refinancing our current mortgage to $2.25 million from $1.75 million, because we know we’re going to have some big expenses. We’ve got to do an elevator upgrade, and at some point we will have to replace the roof. It’s the original roof from the 1950s, so it’s going to be a very expensive job because of the Climate Mobilization Act, which requires you to either green your roof or put solar panels up there if you’re doing major roof renovations. I’m thinking it’s going to be too much work putting in and taking care of a green roof, so we’ll probably end up doing solar.


Teaching moments. Being on the board is definitely a team effort. We have a sponsor who owns 30 apartments that haven’t been sold, and we work well with the sponsor’s rep. Whenever we have new board members, I sit down with them and go over as much as possible and try to keep them informed. 


For example, I sit down with our treasurer, and we read our management report together line by line. I also encourage people to take seminars and classes about board responsibilities and other things they need to know. I study the building code, read the New York Law Journal, and consult all the time. I like to say that one of my chief regrets is that education credits can’t be awarded for serving as a board member, because I could have earned an MBA by now! 


Keeping calm and carrying on. My time as president has been a long series of challenges — mostly fulfilling, but also stressful. When I first became president, people used to actually knock on my door, but now they go through our managing agent, thank goodness. And early on the annual meetings sometimes got out of hand. My husband, Victor, would sit in the front row with a whistle because people never stopped talking, or they would be arguing, and he would have to blow it to make them stop. Now people listen to me, and it’s pretty orderly.

Big haul. We’ve got a good group of shareholders here, but there are always issues. Just recently a shareholder passed away, and the relatives were clearing out the entire apartment. The garbage area was so full that you couldn’t even walk in there. Our poor super was up until 3 a.m. trying to clean it out, and they wanted to bring down even more stuff. We got them to agree to bring in somebody to cart away the stuff every day until they were done. But it’s all part of the job. I’ve stayed on the board because it’s a passion, not a pastime. As long as I’m still standing and my brain is still working, I’ll keep doing it.

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