Jennifer V. Hughes in Board Operations
Schreiber (below) is one of 32 board presidents in eastern Queens who comprise the Presidents' Co-op Council. Using e-mail, members post questions to the group about how to improve their buildings. "It gives us an opportunity to run ideas past the other presidents to find out how other co-ops are doing things," says Schreiber. In the case of the termite situation, his 200-unit Bay Terrace co-op was considering switching from standard liquid termidicide to a baiting system.
"They were able to give me the names of pest control companies they were using," says Schreiber, who wound up choosing a different company than those recommended by the group, but, "Instead of having three bids, we had proposals from six or seven different companies. It gave us a better feel for what was going on." After his co-op decided to go with baiting, Schreiber e-mailed the group so it could learn from his experience.
That's how the group's founder hoped the system would work. Bob Friedrich, board president of Glen Oaks Village, says he came up with the idea for the council about two-and-a-half years ago when he noticed some nice new doors at a neighboring co-op. "I wondered how they did it, but then I realized I had no idea how to get in touch with that co-op board president," recalls Friedrich, who has served on the board of the 2,904-unit cooperative in Glen Oaks for 13 years.
Over a few months, he went door-to-door at cooperatives in eastern Queens and left his business card with managing agents, asking them to give his contact information to their presidents, who, Friedrich recalls, eagerly responded — some of then even spreading the word to other presidents, further enlarging the pool.
Since its inception, the group has traded information about which contractors to use to handle asbestos abatement and elevator repairs; finding a new managing agent; whether it's better to pay for a big project with a loan or an assessment; how to financially evaluate buyers; and how to handle a variety of shareholder concerns.
Member Paul Schwartz even posted to the group when his co-op was looking to sell a gas-powered golf cart it no longer needed. He had little luck with Craig's List but found a handful of interested buyers when he posted to the presidents. Schwartz, who leads the 248-unit Kennedy Street Quad in Bayside, says the organization is particularly helpful for presidents like him who have served for only a short period of time. He adds that his managing agent has welcomed the extra information.
Speak Softly and Carry a Big Club
The other way the group has been helpful, Friedrich says, is in political activism. The members got involved when the New York City Council considered a measure that would have required co-op boards to give reasons for refusing to accept buyers. The group met with council members and wrote letters, he says. "We have 32 co-ops that represent about 20,000 units of housing — that is potentially 40,000 voters," Friedrich says.
How hard would it be for other co-ops to emulate his group? Not very, Friedrich says. First, he suggests, look in your immediate geographic area, because neighboring co-ops and condos often have similar concerns. In eastern Queens, for example, there are few mass-transit options, so roads and parking are important issues. Go to other co-ops and condos and indicate to managing agents or superintendents that you want to get in touch with the board president.
While many boards are members of the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums and/or the Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives & Condominiums, Friedrich says it is still a good idea to organize locally, says Friedrich, "to give presidents an opportunity to speak to each other to help them manage their buildings."
Schreiber, of Bay Terrace, has used information from the presidents' group when going back to his board — who, he says, "has become so used to the idea that we'll have something come up at a meeting, and someone will suggest we table this for a month and put it to the presidents' council to see what kind of answers we get."
Adapted from Habitat May 2008. For the complete article and more, join our Archive >>
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