New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

HABITAT

BOARD OPERATIONS

HOW CO-OP/CONDO BOARDS OPERATE

Q&A With a Ford Model Turned Co-op Board President

Paula Chin in Board Operations on May 17, 2021

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Co-op board president, Ford model, Upper West Side co-op.

Debra McEneaney, president of her Upper West Side co-op board, can't imagine living anywhere else.

May 17, 2021

Debra McEneaney grew up in Connecticut, then struck out for the Big Apple at 17 to pursue a career as a Ford model. She attended night classes full-time at Fordham University in the Bronx, where she majored in fine arts and economics before earning a master’s degree in marketing. McEneaney, 67, who retired from modeling in 2015, is now a partner at a nonprofit consulting firm and the board president at her 34-unit co-op at 166 W. 76th St.

HABITAT: When did you move into the building?

McENEANEY: I moved here in 1976. We had a one-bedroom, and when the building went co-op in 1981, my husband, Kevin, and I bought our apartment and the apartment next door and combined them into a two-bedroom. Seven years later, when we had our second son, we were able to buy the apartment upstairs. So now we have a duplex.

HABITAT: Did you get involved with the board right away?

McENEANEY: Kevin became president and managed the red-herring process of converting to a co-op, which took a couple of years and was pretty challenging. He was president until 2010, when he had to step down because of health issues. So I ran for the board, but I didn’t want to be president. Two years later, the young man who was president left the building, and I’ve been the board president ever since.

HABITAT: Was there a big learning curve for you?

McENEANEY: When Kevin was president, there were meetings in our apartment, so I would hear conversations and knew what was going on. I had also been very involved with the supers. I knew maybe not as much about all the details, but it was easy to come up to speed. We’ve had the same managing agent, plus my husband has a great memory and really knew all the plumbing, pipes and electrical systems. So it was a no-brainer for me in a lot of ways.

HABITAT: What projects have you overseen during your tenure?

McENEANEY: Fortunately, we’re in pretty good shape and haven’t had to do any major systems. But now we’re undertaking a big elevator replacement. It was to begin in March 2020, and we had the equipment delivered, but we had to pull the plug and stop because of COVID-19. Now we’re restarting and planning to have it done soon. We have only one elevator, so we’re paying time-and-a-half to get the job finished in five weeks.

HABITAT: Have there been other smaller projects?

McENEANEY: We put in a security camera recently because we’ve had some packages go missing. It’s remote, so the super can monitor the lobby and keep an eye on things. We also made a deal to get basic Spectrum for the whole building, at the co-op’s expense. So individuals who don’t have the extra packages are saving a lot of money. And we now have an app so people can see who’s using the laundry room in the basement, which is working out very well.

HABITAT: Do you have any particular skills or experience that you bring to the table as board president?

McENEANEY: Well, I’m very organized, and I think my historical perspective helps my understanding of the building’s needs. But I think we have a really good board, where people can give their opinions openly and honestly, and we also have a fabulous live-in super who’s been with us for a few years. It’s not a very pretty building on its own because we have fire escapes front and back. But everyone helps take care of the tree wells and flower pots outside and make it look as pretty as we can. I think it’s wonderful that people care about a building. That passion for the building helps a lot.

The other thing is, we do have a very good working relationship with our neighboring building, another small co-op, which is something I’ve helped cultivate. We always talk. I’ll chat with the president, who’s been there forever, or the super about little things, like if there’s any problem with our garden or the vines. But we also rely on them whenever we’re looking for a contractor or something, so we’re getting opinions from other people that we know and trust – along with our managing agent, of course. But as a board, we always do our own kind of personal research.

HABITAT: Why have both you and your husband served on the board so long?

McENEANEY: We like to joke that we’re so loyal we’ll never give up our landline. I think a lot of it has to do with the neighborhood, which I love. We’re between Central Park and Riverside Park. We have a sunny apartment, it’s a friendly co-op, and you feel very safe. It’s like we have our own little house in Manhattan. In fact, our 28-year-old son lives in the apartment upstairs. He’ll eventually want to go live in the Village or Brooklyn or something, I’m sure. But right now, he’s still liking our nice, quiet building. When I first moved here, I always thought I’d grow up and move somewhere with a doorman and a view, and I’m still here in the same apartment. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

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