Ron Egatz in Bricks & Bucks on April 26, 2017
Hurricane Sandy created havoc at Village East Towers, a 434-unit Mitchell-Lama co-op at Avenue C and East 10th Street in Manhattan, which is in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “Super Flood Zone.”
“When Sandy hit, we were on national news,” says board president Dick Heitler. “Avenue C became a river three feet deep. Cars were moved by floodwaters. We had a foot of water in the lobby and three feet of water outside the door. We were not prepared for this emergency. We were essentially living in the 19th century.”
In response, an emergency task force was formed to assist vulnerable residents and to formulate plans for future emergencies. One shareholder and task force member, John Calhoun, learned about a Dutchess County-based company called Presray, which manufactures flood gates, flood barriers, and watertight doors designed to protect buildings from rising waters. The task force did its homework, and created detailed reports of what the co-op needed to do to prepare for a Sandy sequel.
The hard work paid off. In December the co-op closed on a $9.95 million federal resiliency grant from the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), to be used primarily for a flood barrier system and backup generators. “We had a good idea what to ask for,” says Heitler. “They don’t just give you the money. This is a hard grant to get. We had to provide engineering studies.”
The co-op also documented the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of items in the proposal. Everything required bids, and firm prices were needed as a basis for underwriting the loan. The terms of the deal require the co-op to repay the loan if it fails to remain affordable housing under the Mitchell-Lama program. If the terms are honored by the co-op, the loan essentially becomes a grant.
Heitler says securing the grant was a team effort. “I have nothing but praise for the architectural and engineering firms who worked with us without getting paid – because there was no money until we closed the deal,” he says. “The attorneys and energy conservation people all cooperated to help make this happen. The people we worked with at HDC and HPD (the city’s department of Housing Preservation and Development) were terrific. When the loan closed, everyone got paid.”
Portable Presray flood barriers, which protect points of entry such as doors and garage entrances, were just the beginning. The grant also covers flood proofing, which protects all below-ground services such as telephone, Internet, power, and Con Ed steam lines, all of which were flooded out by Sandy and are now being waterproofed. What can’t be waterproofed, including main switches, is being raised out of the basement to prevent future damage. New generators will be placed on the garage roof and will keep one elevator running in each of Village East Towers’ three high-rise buildings. Public areas will remain lit, pumps will be run, and city water will be operational.
“If there’s a city power failure, the new cogen system will ensure an alternative source of energy so the buildings can function with a certain level of disruption, but in a manner that will enable people to be safe while they shelter in place,” says Jack Lepper, the co-op's attorney, a partner at Kagan Lubic Lepper Finkelstein & Gold. “That’s critical, and you have to thank the federal government...along with HDC and HPD, our management company and board, who all came together and worked to ensure our many senior citizens will be safe in future disasters.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ATTORNEYS: Kagan Lubic Lepper Finkelstein & Gold. ARCHITECTURE and ENGINEERING: Lawless and Mangione. COGEN SPECIALISTS and ENERGY CONSERVATION: Bright Power. CONTRACTOR: Electrical Contracting Solutions. FLOOD BARRIERS: Presray.
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