Marianne Schaefer in Green Ideas on October 17, 2019
Eight years ago, a revolution took place at the 165-unit co-op at 305 East 72 Street. “We overthrew the board, it was a coup,” says current board president Mark Foley. The building had a bad reputation, according to Foley, and shareholders were unhappy with the old board, which they considered authoritarian. Most of all, the maintenance was high in comparison to other buildings in the neighborhood even though repairs were neglected. “We expected to find all kinds of malfeasance,” Foley says of his fellow revolutionaries, “but what we really found was incompetence.”
Foley, with a background as a Wall Street analyst, is of the opinion that a co-op is a business. “If you run a business, you know if you’re making money or losing money,” Foley says. “But too often in a building, nobody feels any real responsibility. The average maintenance increase is about five to six percent while inflation is less than two percent – and that’s just wrong.” Under the new board, the co-op went seven years without a maintenance increase, and the board has been able to increase the reserve fund while significantly improving the building. (There was a small maintenance increase last year, but none planned for this year.)
The current seven-member board includes a chief financial officer and an attorney with an MBA; Foley’s wife, who also has a Wall Street background, is on the finance committee. “Energy efficiency is a very large component when you want to save money,” says Foley. “Also, when you look at individual line items in the budget, there may be 500 line items, so we look at every single item, big or small, and try to reduce the cost, no matter if it’s a phone bill or if it’s a vendor who is doing a half-million-dollar roof replacement.”
This board’s crowning achievement is a $500,000 roof replacement with a fully landscaped green roof and solar panels, which puts it way ahead of the curve. As part of the Climate Mobilization Act, the city has passed Local Laws 92 and 94, which go into effect November 15 and will require that solar panels and/or green roofs be installed on all newly constructed buildings and on existing buildings undergoing a major roof replacement. (The city is still ironing out exemptions and other fine points of these new roof rules.) Green roofs extend the life of roofs, reduce cooling costs, keep rainwater from overwhelming sewers, and provide an oasis for residents.
While many co-op and condo boards grumble over yet another city mandate, Alan Burchell, principal at the green building consultancy Urbanstrong, says these new roof requirements will generate savings for all affected buildings. “We would like everyone to start thinking of rooftops as buckets rather than lids,” Burchell says. “There’s valuable stuff falling from the sky – water and photons for solar energy – and they’re becoming more and more precious. If money is falling from the sky, wouldn’t you rather have a bucket on your roof than a lid? Green roofs and solar panels are buckets. And efficient buildings run cheaper.”
Foley’s co-op already has its buckets in place. They’re collecting and recycling the rainwater for irrigation (and keeping it out of the sewers), and the solar panels alone provide one-third of the electricity for the building. Thanks to the green roof and other improvements, the co-op has trimmed its electricity and water costs by 65 percent.
Business acumen and energy efficiency achieve the same thing: savings. “Most boards and managing agents say you should raise maintenance every year,” says Foley. “They think people need to get used to it, even if it’s just one or two percent. We think just the opposite. Why should you get used to something that’s not needed?”
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