Paula Chin in Board Operations on June 7, 2016
As board president of Deepdale Gardens co-op in Little Neck, Queens, Shaun Carr knows he can’t please all of the people all of the time. Deepdale, after all, spans 60 acres and consists of 69 two-story buildings, containing 1,396 apartments that are more than 3,000 residents. Which presents the board with a significant challenge: juggling the sometimes competing needs of Deepdale’s youngest and oldest residents.
Incorporated in the early 1950s, it is one of the many co-ops built in Queens under Section 213, a federal government program instituted to provide affordable housing for World War II veterans. As those residents have aged over the decades, Deepdale has evolved into a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC), with more than 50 percent of owners aged 60 and over.
“We’ve been identified as a NORC since the 1990s, but at the same time we have a mix of people coming in,” says Carr. “There are singles, couples with children or who plan to have them, along with grown children of the original shareholders who have inherited their units. There’s been a lot of ebb and flow in our population, which makes it a real juggling act trying to meet the needs of all of our residents.”
It’s a juggling act many older condos and co-ops will be forced to emulate as more baby boomers opt out of assisted-living communities in favor of staying in their familiar apartments, where they live in close quarters with younger neighbors instead of fellow seniors. And those boards might do well to take a page from Deepdale’s playbook; Carr grew up there, as did his parents, which gives him a unique perspective on the co-op’s diverse demographics – children, young couples, the middle-aged, and the elderly. Sometimes, their needs conflict.
When the co-op set out to install a children’s water park last year, for instance, the board met with resistance from older residents. “We had recently renovated all nine of the existing playgrounds here, but I wanted to go further,” Carr explains. “As much as we want to serve our seniors, we have to do the same for young families to reinvigorate the community and attract new buyers.”
After he introduced the idea to board officers, they did research and solicited bids. Once they got the go-ahead from the full 13-member board for the $90,000 project, residents were informed through the co-op’s newsletter and a flyer, and invited to voice their opinions during the opening session of the monthly shareholder meeting. (The second part of each meeting is for the board only, when it tackles financial and legal matters, projects in the planning stage, and lawsuits filed by residents, which are relatively rare.)
Parents with young kids loved the park plan; older shareholders, not so much. “They felt it would be disruptive and noisy, and were worried about children running out into the nearby parking lots,” Carr recalls.
The board made changes to accommodate those concerns, including strict, daytime-only hours, planting more shrubs and hedges so the park would be less visible, and adding benches on each side of the entrance where adults could keep a watchful eye on the kids. Centrally located on the Deepdale property, the 1,000-square-foot park has seven features, ranging from a small, bubbling fountain for toddlers to a splashier sprinkler tree for tweens. “It opened last June, and judging by attendance it was a huge success,” says Carr. “People would come up to me and say, ‘This is an excellent investment.’”
That’s what happens when a board knows how to juggle residents’ needs.
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