Historic co-op may lose gas if no help is found soon

The Amalgamated and its 1,500 housing units face a serious crisis over line repairs


More than half the units at Amalgamated Houses may have their gas shutoff July 1 if the co-op doesn’t repair its gas lines, management warned residents in a Feb. 17 notice. The work would cost at least $6,500 per apartment, or $9.8 million in total, according to the notice.

The cost is hard to fathom for the nearly 1,500 Amalgamated residents.

Amalgamated is the nation’s oldest limited-equity co-op, and a monument to housing affordability.

Members must meet income restriction guidelines set by the state affordable housing agency New York State Homes and Community Renewal, which oversees a range of public subsidies that help maintain the affordability of limited-equity co-ops.

The current crisis has been brewing for some time, said general manager Charles Zsebedics, who has worked with the Amalgamated’s board of directors to ward off the fiscal cliff since at least 2017. That was when New York City began to roll out legislation tightening the safety requirements for gas pipelines in residential buildings.

Local Law 152 passed in 2016 as part of a package of gas safety bills in the wake of the 2015 explosion inside a building on Second Avenue in East Village that took two lives and left the city reeling.

Residential buildings in Bronx Community District 8 were required to carry out their first gas pipeline inspections last year, and any necessary repairs must be documented within 180 days.

The city buildings department could not be reached by press time to confirm the results of the master plumber’s inspection, which Amalgamated’s management says occurred in December.

A spokesperson for ConEd said a licensed plumber will contact the utility company if the gas needs to be turned off, but did not indicate if one had done so yet.

What is clear is that Amalgamated has been pleading for assistance from the state housing agency for some time to make necessary repairs in anticipation of new energy and gas safety regulations.

Heading to Albany

A spokesperson for HCR said the agency is in discussions with ConEd about a potential shutdown of cooking gas at Amalgamated, “including whether a shutdown is actually scheduled and, if so, determining potential remedies to address the situation.”

The agency contends that since Amalgamated is a privately owned, it’s their responsibility to manage their buildings and provide solutions to potential problems.

CB8 chair Laura Spalter said the board is now getting inquiries from Amalgamated residents.

“The board is concerned with impacts on residents,” she said, and added they’re seeking further information from elected officials and the city’s buildings department.

Amalgamated is meanwhile taking its bid to Albany, where board treasurer Ed Yaker traveled last week to warn state lawmakers about the co-op community’s predicament.

“We’re 95 years old and I don’t know if we’re going to reach 100,” he said in a March 1 joint legislative hearing on the state’s housing budget.

“If we don’t, the cause of death is going to be supervision by the state of New York Housing and Community Renewal.”

HCR provided Amalgamated a $6.65 million subsidy loan in 2017, which the co-op combined with private financing to fund a $43.5 million rehabilitation addressing a number of long-term capital needs on all 11 residential buildings.

The renovation plan outlined in the project plan included roof replacement, façade repair and restoration, balcony replacement, masonry and windowsill replacement, repairs to fire escapes, new drainage systems, garage repair, asbestos and lead abatement, and replacement of the boilers

But since then, increases in shareholders’ monthly fees have been insufficient to cover the co-op’s costs, Yaker said.

He testified that the Amalgamated owes $1.5 million in payments to past vendors.

THe Amalgamated has remained a working class stronghold in the Bronx, hanging onto its limited-equity status through the wave of co-op conversions in the 1980s.

“I’m more concerned with going bankrupt than I am with voting to leave the program,” Yaker said.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, seated beside fellow lawmakers, replied: “that would be pretty much be a disaster for affordable housing.”

He and Sen. Robert Jackson said they’d be keeping lines of communication open with HCR and Amalgamated’s board.

Amalgamated could have made repairs at a dramatically lower cost before interest rates began rising last year. In fact, management planned to do so in 2021 — had HCR permitted them to refinance, Zsebedics said.

“We would have had money to address the gas pipe defects in advance of the Dec. 31 buildings inspection filing date, and this would have been a non-issue,” he continued in an email to The Press.

“But that didn’t happen.”

Instead, he said Amalgamated had to re-do a costly physical needs assessment in order to meet the state agency’s requirements.

He warned of the exorbitant additional costs a gas shutdown would imply, leading to “cascading and harmful impacts.”

“We need help and we need it from the HCR immediately,” he added.

Keeping lines of
communication open

Zsebedics said they haven’t heard from HCR since Yaker’s testimony last week. He said they plan to continue to communicate with Dinowitz and Jackson as well as state senate housing committee chair Brian Kavanagh.

The community was founded in 1927 by early pioneers of cooperative housing. The building at 74 Van Cortlandt Park S. was constructed the following year, and more buildings followed in subsequent decades. Amalgamated is a small village today, comprising 11 buildings between Van Cortlandt Park South and Sedgwick Avenue in Van Cortlandt Village.

Most were constructed before the state’s Mitchell-Lama law was passed in 1955.

The limited-equity co-op model remains one of the few avenues for working-class New York residents to become homeowners.

“I feel Amalgamated really needs to make residents a lot more aware of this,” said Ed Green, an Amalgamated shareholder who, along with his neighbors, received the foreboding notice about a possible gas shutoff under his door Feb. 17.

“My neighbors don’t know what’s going on. One of them thought I was kidding when I told her about this notice. I get stuff under my door all the time, but I said I better take a look at this right away.”

It included information about a vendor based in California — Channing Street Copper — that may be able to sell Amalgamated residents a new type of range stove that operates on a standard 110 volt outlet using a lithium ferrous phosphate battery.

It’s a cutting-edge technology, the notice said.

Green said he planned to research the company for himself.

Otherwise, the co-op would need to undertake electrical upgrades in all its buildings to convert to fully electric kitchens and laundry rooms. Management estimated the bill would be about $30,000 per apartment — a costly prospect.

Abigail Nehring is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

The Amalgamated, gas line, shut off, Charles Zsebedics, affordable housing, Laura Spalter, Ed Green, Community Board 8, CB8, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Robert Jackson