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Hamilton Heights Co-op Board Is Having a Case of Deja Vu

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on July 28, 2021

Hamilton Heights, Manhattan

Facade repairs, HDFC co-op, maintenance increase, deja vu.

DEJA VU: On the first wall repair, the vertical corner post and window treatments to the left are original limestone; the bricks to the right are new, and the window treatments are replicas made of lightweight Fiber-Reinforced Plastic (images courtesy of Koenigsberg Engineering).

July 28, 2021

For some unlucky co-op boards, problems come in pairs. For the 54-unit, affordable HDFC co-op at 94-102 Hamilton Pl. in Hamilton Heights, the pair of problems looks like a case of deja vu all over again.

It started back in 2016, when the outer layer of bricks on one of the co-op’s two l900-vintage buildings began to peel away from the underlying bricks. Fearing a collapse, the board summoned the engineer Richard Koenigsberg, who saw to it that a sidewalk shed was immediately erected. The police department shut down the street. Koenigsberg then developed a “strapping” system that wrapped steel cables around the facade and through window openings, floors and walls. Disaster was averted. Several years and $1 million later, the bricks were replaced, and limestone window details were replaced with lightweight Fiber-Reinforced Plastic replicas that mimicked the original ornamentation.

Fast forward to 2020. With the pandemic descending, a co-op resident noticed that bricks on the upper stories of the co-op’s other building were separating from the underlying wall. It was, indeed, deja vu all over again – though not as severe as the original problem.

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“It was so baffling,” says co-op board member Althea Aaron, a retired educator who moved into the building in 1982 and was present during its conversion from a rental into an affordable HDFC co-op two years later. “When the first building was under repair, I said we should check the other building. We were told there were no problems. Then the city inspectors came back and told us we had a problem, and it was going to get worse. So we immediately put up a sidewalk shed.”

With workers idled by the pandemic, the sidewalk shed, scaffolding and netting offered protection for passersby – but at a mounting rental cost to the co-op. Finally, with pandemic restrictions easing, the co-op succeeded in refinancing its underlying mortgage with National Cooperative Bank for $2.8 million, which enabled it to pay back rent on the scaffolding and begin repairs to the brick on the fifth through seventh floors. This project, like its predecessor, is expected to cost more than $1 million, with completion in spring of 2022. The co-op board had no choice but to phase in a 15% maintenance increase over three years. 

“This job is the same as the first one,” says Koenigsberg, president of Koenigsberg Engineering. “But we got to it in time, so we didn’t need the elaborate stabilization. It wasn’t in danger of collapse.”

Aaron, who has tried to bring openness to the co-op board’s proceedings since she joined in 2019, was straightforward in delivering the bad news to shareholders. “People are never happy to get a maintenance increase,” she says. “For us, as a small HDFC, we’re heart-strong but cash-poor. Our shareholders are working-class people with low to middle-class incomes. These hits that keep happening make it very challenging to keep maintenance low. But when you talk to people and try to tell them what’s going on, it makes the smack a little less painful.”

Aaron says the board is buoyed by its professionals. Koenigsberg has already been through the fire once, and Aaron has high praise for the property manager, Frank Negron of HSC Management, “Frank is available to us, he responds when we need help,” she says. “He’s been in the business many years, so he has a lot of good experience and provides helpful tips.”

Aaron adds that having a sense of deja vu all over again has made this co-op board stronger. “We do as much as we can to keep things going,” she says. “We’re resilient.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ENGINEER: Koenigsberg Engineering. PROPERTY MANAGER: HSC Management. LENDER: National Cooperative Bank. CONTRACTOR: Teamwork Enterprises.

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