Amalgamated residents challenge affordable definition


New York City is home to roughly eight million people, and, according to census data, two million of them live below the poverty line.

Shareholders at the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative are struggling to come to terms with the latest decision by the state division of homes and community renewal to raise carrying charges by 45.22 percent — roughly $327.27 per room — beginning July 1.

The letter distributed to co-operators and signed by co-op president Jack Spiegel reads “after a thorough review of our financials, HCR has determined that this amount is the minimum necessary to maintain the financial health of our co-operative.”

While this will not be the first rise in carrying charges for residents at the Amalgamated Cooperative, it is the second one in the last two years, and residents are becoming increasingly concerned with the affordability of their once affordable units.

The history of Amalgamated Housing dates back 97 years to its founding as the first limited-equity housing co-operative in the nation, meaning it is income-restricted to allow low- and middle-income residents an opportunity at homeownership. The carrying charges cooperative members pay are a monthly fee based on their income.

Judy Gonzalez was elected to the Amalgamated Cooperative board of directors in May, but she has been leading the Amalgamated Cooperative Union since ConEdison threatened to shut off the gas of more than 800 tenants last year after vital gas line repairs went unattended.

Gonzalez said the first carrying charge increase she saw was nine years ago, then again two years ago, and now the latest, 45-percent increase. She said the affordable housing the city is offering can no longer claim to be affordable.

“I was paying about $1,400 for my three bedroom (apartment) 10 years ago and now will be paying almost $3,000,” Gonzalez said.

She believes the co-op’s board should press forward in reviewing alternatives that could help mitigate the carry-charge increase for co-operators, alternatives like selling one of the buildings that is in disrepair.

With respect to the carry-charge increase, “copies of the approved budgets, reflecting the rent determination, will be issued to the housing company and posted in the project within five days of the issuance of the order,” as stated in the codes, rules, and regulations of the state division of housing and community renewal.

Amalgamated cooperative shareholder Eugene Tenenbaum said the co-op’s board and HCR aren’t doing their jobs, adding, as of the first week of June, copies of the approved budgets have still not been seen by shareholders despite this decision having been made and finalized May 24.

Tenenbaum was quick to email board members and president Spiegel about the lack of transparency on the matter.

Gonzalez said the board is doing the best with what it has, and the carrying-charge increase is to compensate for costs of repair and upkeep, but she believes there has to be a solution that will hurt the Amalgamated population less.

“What happens to our families who have lived here for so many years who are not going to be able to stay?” Gonzalez said. “What happens to all these families who are now paying double what they were paying 10 years ago?”

Census data shows the median household income in 2022 was $76,607 but one of the latest residential buildings to go up in the area, 3745 Riverdale Ave. — boasting affordable housing — is accepting tenants with incomes between $92,572 and $198,250 who could win the lottery to pay $2,700 for a studio.

A number of the Amalgamated buildings are also Mitchell-Lama housing, the first such housing in the state.

Mitchell-Lama, named for the government officials who sponsored the bill, are made as affordable developments that are income-restricted with a rental ceiling. This style of co-operative housing allows individuals to buy in as with a regular co-op but, when they wish to leave, they can only sell their shares back to the co-operative, and then the cooperative works to fill the open unit and approve any new members. 

The Amalgamated carrying-charge increase slated for July 1 was originally requested by the board in October 2023. As per the regulations of the housing and community renewal, the board can request a carrying charge increase but approval can only be granted after a public community hearing.

At a public hearing back in March, Spiegel said it’s his and the board’s job to ensure that Amalgamated does not go bankrupt.

A question raised by many, including Tenenbaum and Gonzalez, is what will happen when people are forced out and where they will go? But with a years-long wait-list to get into the cooperative, it does not appear management is concerned with the loss of tenants.

Gonzalez said there are currently more than 150 Amalgamated units unoccupied because the board does not have the money to pay people to renovate the spaces for new co-operators to join. She said she joined the board because she takes more of an “activist” approach to matters, and she believes the Amalgamated needs a different approach to the never-ending dilemma of funding building operations.

“The people that keep the city moving, that’s who lives in Amalgamated,” Gonzalez said. “I think we need to make demands that we deserve this dream that was developed with Mitchell-Llama in the (1950s). We can’t abandon that.”

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