That was the statement from a cooperator the day after Rochdale Village’s annual shareholders meeting. Less than 100 individuals reportedly turned out for that meeting where cooperatives are given a report on the state of the Village. Rochdale Village is the second largest Mitchell Lama complex in New York City with over 5,000 units.
A week later, Rochdale Village failed to reach the quorum necessary for a valid election to fill open seats on its Board of Directors. The Election Committee voted to extend the election another day in an effort to receive the additional 64 votes necessary for a quorum. The cost…an additional $22,000 on top of the over $55,000 already spent on the election.
What’s at stake? Some believe Mitchell Lama Properties are facing privatization. In Brooklyn, residents are fighting against the privatization of Starrett City, a Mitchell Lama Complex. Brooklyn has lost 4,300 Mitchell Lama units since 1990. This loss speaks directly to the issue of affordable housing with which the city is currently grappling. In February 2016, the NYC Council Committee on Housing and Buildings had its first hearing on Mitchell-Lama housing in nearly seven years. At the hearing the concerns of supporting the developments, protecting affordability and oversight were discussed.
Elections are typically hard fought, but that is nothing compared to a Rochdale Village Board of Directors Election. On the days prior to an election, apartments are typically inundated with negative material about candidates which contain anything from accusations of impropriety, assertion of criminal acts by candidates and allegations of corruption. These materials arrive with no signature from those making the charges and very little evidence to substantiate them.
Residents are also inundated with election materials: Palm cards, flyers, announcements, used to gain voter attention. It is clear which candidates have the most finances as their materials come more regularly and are the most alluring: glossy papers and dynamic graphics. In typically elections, candidates proudly display their parties backing and endorsements. There is also a dearth of oversight and accountability.
In a Rochdale Village Board of Directors campaign, there is little to no transparency regarding from whom and where campaign funds are derived. That mystery has long opened the door to conspiracy theories of Rochdale Village’s Management company’s clandestine involvement in elections. One such conspiracy theory is that company Managing the Cooperative is using its money and clout to influence the campaign and keep its desired Board Members in place. Whether or not it is true can not be ascertained without transparency.
Elected officials are typically hands off on the matter of Board elections and the Management of Mitchell Lama Cooperatives. However, that may be changing. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, recently penned an op-ed and testified about the crisis of the Mitchell Lamas. Although he was referring to Brooklyn sites and non-cooperative tenant occupancies, he makes some interesting points about Board oversight and city agencies that may be slacking.
“For too long, the Mitchell-Lama portfolio has lacked funds for regular maintenance and oversight, and many of the boards overseeing these buildings have run amok, playing their own rules while ignoring the needs of residents who generally do not participate in the voting process. Instead of safeguarding the integrity of the Mitchell-Lama program, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the state’s Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) have allowed these select boards to defy the rules regarding apartment allocation, contracting and financial reporting. This needs to change, for the sake of those living under these conditions, and to restore accountability and integrity in the system.” -Eric Adams
Rochdale Village cooperators have long been trying to receive real attention for its issues from HPD and DHCR. During the period leading up to its extended one day election, several cooperators were trying to put a face on what they consider unfair promotional practices. Flyers for one group of candidates were removed from Village wide bulletin boards while another group’s flyers remained in place.
Jamaica Queens is currently slated for revitalization supported by city and state funds. Its Downtown area is already seeing developments of hotels and apartments, a portion of those are said to be filled with affordable housing. The area also has one of the highest concentration of homeless shelters. JFK International Airport, currently slated for a billion dollar renovation is less than a mile away from Rochdale Village, the Jewel of Jamaica. This $75 million dollar Mitchell Lama Cooperative exists in the midst of it all.