Bill Morris in Board Operations on May 6, 2021
Toba Potosky served for 16 years as board president at Cadman Towers, a 421-unit affordable Mitchell-Lama co-op in Brooklyn Heights. He stepped down in March to run for the New York City Council seat for District 33, which stretches along the Brooklyn riverfront and into Bedford-Stuyvesant. This is an edited version of a recent Habitat interview with Potosky.
Habitat: Why did you step down from your co-op board?
Potosky: I just felt with all the work that needs to be done, I couldn't run for office and also serve as the board president of my co-op. It just was just too much work on both sides.
Habitat: You were quoted in Brooklyn Paper saying you have a plan to build 100% affordable housing complexes at minimal cost to the city. How are you going to do that?
Potosky: I live in a Mitchell-Lama co-op. In the 1960s to 1970s, they built over 100,000 units of affordable housing in New York State, including the city. There was leadership in the area of affordable housing. So the idea that we're not building 100% affordable housing, to me it's ludicrous because we're so desperate for it.
There are great programs called low-income housing tax credits and the other programs called HDFCs, but the city is not giving enough incentives to build affordable housing. The incentives are to build luxury housing, market-rate housing. If the city puts the incentive on affordable housing, you will see a boom of affordable housing. There are great developers out there who are already building affordable housing. It's just not at the level that we need.
Habitat: Cadman Towers had a chance to leave the Mitchell-Lama program and go to market-rate sales. Were you philosophically opposed to leaving the program?
Potosky: I was not philosophically opposed to it, no. There's a fundamental problem with all subsidized housing: at some point they need investments of millions and millions of dollars. So where does that money come from? At Cadman Towers we’re about to sign a loan for $35 million. There are Mitchell-Lamas around the city that need capital repair work in excess of $100 million. So after 20, 30 years, any kind of subsidized housing needs an injection of cash for capital repairs. When the final vote came (on going to market rate), I was advocating for people to abstain from voting. It was such a hot topic, and people were so passionate, I felt that if people abstained it would just go away. I felt that people had a right to exercise their rights.
Habitat: The Climate mobilization Act, which requires buildings to reduce their carbon emissions beginning in 2024, is going to cost co-op and condo boards millions and millions of dollars. What are your thoughts on the law?
Potosky: At Cadman Towers I brought in regular energy audits so that every opportunity we get to go green, we go green. But being a Mitchell-Lama, we’re not paying full real estate taxes, and one of the benefits of a lot of the green programs is you get a tax abatement. But if you already have a tax abatement, like we do, then you have to pay full price. People constantly say things to me like, ‘Why don't we have solar panels?’ It’s because if you're not paying full real estate taxes and you don't get the tax abatement for installing solar panels. So it just becomes cost prohibitive, and then the payoff is not great enough, there's no savings there. Listen, I'm not crying because I live in a Mitchell-Lama co-op.
Habitat: State Sen. Brian Kavanagh has introduced legislation that would require co-op boards to give a reason for rejecting a purchase application – and do it within a set time frame. Do you support his bill?
Potosky: I'm very happy that my state Senator put this bill forward to sort of right a wrong. If you get rejected now, co-op boards are under no obligation to let you know why. You just get notified that you've been rejected. And there's not a timeline on that. There should be protections on both sides to make sure that it doesn't open up a floodgate for more lawsuits. But everybody has a right to know why they’ve been rejected.
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