Green roofs? Sounds great! Sub-metering? No


(re: “’Tar beach’ no more, city rooftops are going green,” Feb. 27)

Heather J. Smith’s superb front-page story on green roofs is very informative. Hopefully the members of the Amalgamated Housing board of directors read it.

Years ago, a then-board member suggested green roofs, and the clique that controls the board ignored that person. From what I’ve been told, they tend to ignore any suggestions that don’t come from themselves.

This prevented the solving of two problems. You would have the benefits described by Smith of a cooler roof that results in cooler apartments as well as the absorbing of rainwater to put less stress on wastewater treatment plants.

In addition, the board could have solved a problem that predates when I moved into my first Amalgamated apartment in 1984 at the age of 27. That is, leaky roofs. There’s something wrong when this problem still exists when I’m an old man of 63.

Also, as Smith reported, the city offers tax credits up to $100,000 for green roofs.

Amalgamated general manager Charles Zsebedics previously worked at a market-rate co-op. The Amalgamated was founded by socialist union leaders in 1927 to provide affordable housing for working people. Zsebedics and current board treasurer — and longtime board member — Ed Yaker have an interest in projects that make the Amalgamated “look pretty.”

Since nobody can see a green roof from the ground, that did not qualify. So replacing floors that are fine with ones that are “pretty” is more of a priority for these impractical thinkers.

Another of their priorities is sub-metering, which they claim would encourage co-operators to use less electricity. But according to the June 19, 2019, board meeting minutes, we are already doing this. In 2018, the electric bill decreased by $152,225. As of this writing, they have not released the 2019 figure.

Sub-metering has been voted down twice by co-operators. But under the current law, the board can approve it without co-operators voting on it. At a meeting held Feb. 26, former board member Daniel Gavilanes asked for a show of hands from the 175 non-board co-operators who attended the meeting. Only two favored sub-metering.

Zsebedics argued that in a co-op he previously managed, the building without sub-metering was lit up at night, while the other building was dark. He obviously never noticed (or ignored) the buildings he actually manages now. Even during the early part of the nightfall, while most people are not sleeping, most windows are dark.

In a March 2019 edition of the Amalgamated’s publication, Community News, Yaker — one of the people who rejected green roofs — argued that sub-metering would be good for the planet by discouraging excess electricity use. But when board president Howard Kamiel argued the case for sub-metering with me, he mentioned nothing about the environment.

Kamiel did not want to pay for anyone else’s electricity. This includes seniors on fixed incomes, some who have medical issues that require the use of more electricity. It includes those living in hotter top-floor apartments that don’t have the green roofs the board rejected to cool them.

At the Feb. 26 board meeting, we were assured that adjustments would be worked out. Just as they assured us we would not encounter problems with the sub-metering company they chose. The April 2018 Enertiv report, “How to Avoid Tenant Sub-metering Death Trap,” explains that sub-metering could cost more money if there’s a problem with the company the co-op uses, and it becomes necessary to switch to a new company. If the old company’s meters are not compatible with the new company, new meters must be installed.

The Sept. 18 board meeting minutes cite penalties from Local Law 97 if electric costs aren’t reduced enough. Actually, that 38-page piece of verbose legalese refers strictly to water issues. Zsebedics denies that he makes any decisions or has any influence on the board, stating he just makes them aware of what the laws are.

Then how come he got this law so blatantly wrong?

Building 7 at 80 Van Cortlandt Park S., recently had its gas shut off to repair leaks. I’ve been told there are plans to replace the gas stoves with electric ones. With sub-metering, that would give co-operators in Building 7 much higher electric bills.

Now I’m not going to undervalue those who take time out of their lives to serve on the board. But I’m not going to blindly accept their proposals and policies without question.

What I have noticed in my nearly 36 years in the Amalgamated is that most of my fellow co-operators have always been reluctant to vote for anyone who opposes those in power. The most extreme example was in last year’s election. The only candidate who opposed the current board’s policies, Brandon Calvo, received only 190 votes.

Meanwhile, James Lastarrio — who in six paragraphs in a pre-election bulletin gave much rhetoric about changes that might be unpleasant but necessary, but who did not give any specifics — received 338 votes.

Considering that we received two carrying charge increases in three years, and much has been spent on cosmetic changes, is one of these changes privatization? Since there’s plenty of housing for people with money, and not enough for everyone else, that’s the last thing we need.

I’ve been told that the board’s officers would go into executive session after a meeting to make decisions without the other board members, with no minutes of these sessions made available. This is unacceptable and anti-democratic. Even if the business conducted in secret has been totally honest, such lack of transparency is an invitation for future corruption.

We need more than one faction on the board. The old saying goes, “power corrupts.” But even if it doesn’t, it creates the problem of nobody being able to stop a bad idea.

Sub-metering is a bad idea that needs to be stopped.

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Richard Warren,