Volume 17, Number 51 | May 13 - 19, 2005

Southbridge Towers elects directors to the board

By Chris Oliver

An election for the board of directors at Southbridge Towers last week seems to put the issue of privatization at the Mitchell-Lama complex on the back burner, but it is still a hot topic among some residents.

Voters turned out in record numbers — 1,086 residents — on May 2-3 to vote in a new slate of five candidates to the 15-member board.

Last year, the hottest issue among residents was whether to explore the issue of going private and leaving the amenities of the Mitchell-Lama plan. That vote to study the issue was narrowly shot down by 514-to-463 residents.

Now, residents and board directors are still concerned with continuing to explore the privatization issue.

“If the shareholders express a decision to have a referendum, I would not be opposed to it,” said Victor Papa, a board member who was reelected with all five members of his slate to the board of directors. The winning slate (Therese Venezia, Elenor McCarton, Ed Shulman, Lisa Ying and Papa) has been more skeptical about privatization, but Papa said they may be willing to examine the issue in the future.

“Right now, there is nothing on the table to have a referendum,” Papa added. “Nobody is anxious to put it on the table. My position has always been the shareholders have a right to look at the issue without a predetermined forecast. They have a right to information.”

He said the major concerns before the board are capital improvements in the face of a mounting deficit.

“The roofs of each building need repairing, there is water seepage in the garage,” he said. “Some people are complaining about their windows. This will be addressed.”

One of the major issues to come before the board at its next meeting on June 7 is the mounting problem of subletting in the complex that has 1,651 shareholders – prohibited under the state’s Mitchell-Lama regulations.

“We’ve seen people who’ve been there for 30 years and all of a sudden there’s a kid coming out carrying books. We want to know who the hell our neighbors are,” Papa said

Some residents report as many as 20 to 40 percent of the tenants at Southbridge are illegal sub-letters in apartments that range from $500 to $1,000 a month.

Paul Viggiano, who’s been reelected president of the board, puts the subletting figure at 15 to 25 percent in the nine-building complex.

“We have been pursuing actively illegal sublets,” he said. “Last year we were able to get rid of something like 15-to-18 illegal sub-letters who are not there anymore. If we find they are illegally subletting we send the applications to the state and that’s it. We are pursuing them now with the same vigor.”

He said window replacement and roof repairs should be well underway by this summer. He said the growing deficit was “small” and would not interfere with the capital improvements, which also includes new flooring in the public areas.

“We have different projects in mind. We’ll be meeting with the treasurer and the new building manager. We have the means,” he said.

One of the big concerns Viggiano intends to bring before the board is a current Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and city idea to take over the co-op’s Footlocker building on Fulton St. as part of the Fulton St. renewal project following the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center.

He said five members of the board will be appointed to meet with various L.M.D.C. and city planning officials to determine what the city intends.

“I want to know what benefit this will be for the shareholders,” Viggiano said. “We’ve heard they want to build a 42-story building, and then it was 27. I think that is all too much. It should be between three and five stories. It all depends on what income it will mean for the shareholders.”

He feels the same way about privatization as fellow board member Victor Papa.

“We want to figure out how to address this issue in a bipartisan way and allow the shareholders to see which way they want to go,” Viggiano said. “One of the issues at our next board meeting will be privatization.”

One proponent for privatization is shareholder Ellen McDonald, who lives in the 100 Beekman St. building.

“It was a crummy election for any of us who wants to privatize,” she said. “A new referendum will be wonderful. We’re going to try and do it again and run it by the folks. All the people talking about privatization have been deceived by the anti-privatization people.

“This past election was a step back for the people who are for privatization,” McDonald said.

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