New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Suzanne Redgen, Board Director, Nine-G Cooperative

A native of Australia, Suzanne Redgen studied nursing at LaTrobe University in Melbourne and moved to New York City in 1989, when she was recruited by Mount Sinai Hospital. After renting apartments in SoHo, Greenwich Village and Park Slope, she and her husband, Scott Eyerly, a composer and instructor at The Juilliard School, moved to Nine-G Cooperative, a five-story, 34-unit co-op at 33 W. 93rd St. Now a middle-school nurse at Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School, Redgen spoke with Habitat about how she came up to speed as a board director and the lessons learned along the way. 

Size matters. I joined the board in 2020, after a member who had a similar-size apartment left. Ours is about 750 square feet, one of the smallest in the building, and the biggest unit is about 2,500 feet. With our board, diversity is important — not just an equal number of men and women but people who represent different apartment sizes, since the range is so wide. Being a nurse, I was up to date on all the COVID-19 requirements, which I thought might be helpful. Also, the co-op had been well run, and I wanted to see how the board came to those good decisions.

Feeding the reserves. When we first moved in, the reserves were low, and we needed to build up the coffers for a long list of maintenance and improvement projects. The co-op had a 2% flip tax, which you could decrease by offsetting what you had spent on renovations. We had many longtime residents who had done a lot of work on their apartments, so there was nothing going back into the building when they sold. The board increased the tax to a flat 3% rate. Apartment prices here have gone up so much in the last few years — a four-bedroom apartment recently sold for $4.75 million and a three-bedroom for about $3.5 million — so that increase has generated some nice money.

Done and done. The co-op consists of nine brownstones, and because they face south, we had to have the front of buildings insulated because it just gets so hot. All of the upper floors have balconies out back, which needed redoing, and so did the fire escapes. We also renovated the hallways and our three common entrances — painting, carpeting, lighting and decor — and our small gym.

On the agenda. We have a five-year plan for capital improvements. Initially we thought we were going to have to install a totally new roof, but it turns out it is in pretty good shape and can be repaired with a super-duper patch job. After that, we are planning to install solar panels to cover the cost of electricity in our public areas. We have also just started replacing all of the big sash windows in the back of the apartments.

To pay for these projects, we were able to take advantage of low interest rates and refinance our underlying mortgage last year, from $1.1 million to a $5 million interest-only loan. At the same time, we started a 10-year assessment, which will go toward the balloon payment. We try to keep an operating reserve of about $500,000. Our maintenance increases have always been very steady, but that changed last year, when it went up by 16%. That was partly to cover the increased debt service costs from the refinancing, as well as to make up for forgoing our property tax abatement, since we decided to keep staff wages steady rather than pay the prevailing wage.

The art of listening. When I first joined the board, I definitely felt like a fish out of water. There’s no book to read that can help guide you. It was just really a matter of sitting back and seeing how things thread, so to speak, whether it’s the different personalities on the board or shareholder concerns. You also learn that nobody is going to get everything they want. For example, with the window replacement some people feel it isn’t fair to pay according to their number of shares, since some apartments have bigger windows while other units have small ones and fewer of them. It is important for boards to understand these kinds of equity issues and for people to feel their voices are being heard.

Working it out. When you can reach a compromise, it’s always satisfying. When composting became available in our community district, there was pushback from shareholders on the ground floor, who were concerned about rats and odors. But we sorted it out. People keep their food scraps, usually in the freezer, during the week and dump them in the composting bins after they are put out on the street on Friday evenings for Saturday pickup. Then we bring in the bins, clean them and store them in the basement. Sometimes the Sanitation Department doesn’t pick up the bins on schedule, and we have to call 311. Other than that, it’s all working beautifully.

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