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Homegrown Change Agent

Carol J. Ott in Board Operations on May 11, 2018

Washington Heights, Manhattan

Mark Hines 1

Mark Hines grew up at River Terrace and came back home to rejuvenate the co-op (photo by Jennifer Wu).

May 11, 2018

By 2013, River Terrace had reached middle age. That was the best way to think about this 432-unit Washington Heights co-op, says Mark Hines, the current board president. He compared the property to “a tired old person who had laid off the gym for a good five to ten years” – and then had a heart attack. The board of directors announced a maintenance increase of 22 percent. 

“Here’s your yoga moment,” Hines says. “Change everything about your diet, do exercise.” When Hines finally got involved, that’s essentially what happened. 

Mark Hines grew up in River Terrace, a Mitchell Lama co-op on Riverside Drive West between 155th and 158th Street, facing the Hudson River. His father had served on the board, and Hines remembers hearing his parents talking about board business and building strife as a child. “I didn’t want any part of that,” he says. 

In 1990 Hines left for Princeton. After graduating with a degree in computer science, he traveled and then worked on Wall Street for five years. He got married, settled in Hoboken, focused on arts and music production and started his own company. When children came along, he knew that he wanted them to grow up at River Terrace. He put his name on the waiting list for an apartment, and when one became available in 1999, the Hines family moved in. 

“I came back happy and complacent,” he says. “I was not active in the community outside of being a cheerful community member.” But the place was showing signs of age, and Hines started getting nudges from old-timers, people who had known him when he was growing up. “You should join the board,” they were suggesting, but, in recalling his father’s experience, he says: “It didn’t seem like anything I wanted to be involved in. It seemed like work and a lot of arguing. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it.”

Then his father weighed in. “Listen, there are things that are not right,” Hines remembers him saying. “You need to get on your job, man. You need to read these reports. You need to become clear about what’s going on, and then you need to do something about it.” That, says Hines, “ended the period of my complacency.” 

Five years later, River Terrace is showing the benefits of going back to the gym. Under Hines’s leadership, the board abandoned self-management and hired Metro Management. It began collecting a large backlog of arrears. It switched the boilers from oil to natural gas, then went the extra mile and installed solar panels and a cogeneration system. This middle-aged co-op is beginning to look spry. 

“I definitely thought this was going to be the worst thing I ever did,” Hines says, looking back at his five years of board service. But the experience has been surprisingly positive, he says, due to a trifecta of factors: “the board growing together, the community growing with the board, and the board taking on way better tools in terms of managing.”

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