To the editor:
A recent story ran in another New York City newspaper, detailing the woes of a number of cooperative buildings in the New York area damaged by Hurricane Sandy. A serious issue was raised. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money cannot be used to repair co-ops, as the co-ops are classified as a business and FEMA funds are for homeowners’ use alone. Yet the article detailed the complaints of some of the residents of affected buildings, claiming that they are de facto residences even if FEMA categorizes the buildings de jure, as businesses.
It seems to me that there is an inherent conflict here: co-ops are the same entities that when convenient, lay claim to being classified as a business. Witness the rule that still stands that allows co-op boards, representing residents, to circumvent requirements that would otherwise force them to explain why a potential purchaser has been rejected for “membership.” They lay claim to the fact they are classified as a business, and are therefore exempt from Federal Fair Housing Laws that landlords and homeowners must obey, banning de facto discrimination. Effectively, co-ops can discriminate at will without being held accountable.
Although unfortunate under the circumstances of storm damage, co-ops can’t have it both ways. If co-ops want access to FEMA funds, then under any change in the law, they should be required to obey the Federal Fair Housing Laws, thus holding co-op boards accountable for their decisions.