A Greenwich Village co-op has provided a snapshot of how we live now – neighbors going to war against each other because cooperators found it impossible to cooperate.
This war story is told in diary form in the New York Times by Kathleen Hughes, who became president of the co-op board but stepped down before she could be voted out. Her sin? Supporting a proposal in which all shareholders would shoulder some of the cost of installing a central air-conditioning system.
To Hughes and other supporters of the proposal, the plan seemed logical: shareholders in the 12-unit loft building should pay for infrastructure improvements – coolant lines running up to the roof, electrical work and a support structure to house condensers on the roof, at a cost of around $300,000 to the building. Shareholders who wanted air-conditioning in their apartments would pay for their own condensers and any work done in their apartments.
But there was a hitch. Five apartments already had central air, installed in various ways over the years. Some had condensers on the roof. Others had condensers hidden inside the apartments, behind dropped ceilings. One board member who already had air-conditioning was opposed to the proposal, saying he could not understand how installing central air in other apartments could improve the value of his apartment. He saw the project not as one that would improve the building as a whole, but as one in which the common space would be used to improve the value of some apartments.
And so the war began, with shareholders on either side accusing the others of acting out of self-interest, and not the interest of the co-op.
After Hughes and a like-minded board member resigned, an alternate plan supported by the opposition was approved. Only the shareholders who want air-conditioning will pay for the project, with bills ranging from $20,000 to $50,000, depending on the size of the apartment.
One shareholder who supported the original proposal said he felt that there probably would be permanent damage to relationships in the building. The board’s attorney sees the dispute as emblematic of something much larger. “This is a microcosm of what goes on in the United States,” he says. “We seem to have reached a point where cooperation is in decline, and competition is in the ascendant.”
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