Volume 16 • Issue 43 | March 26 - April 1, 2004

Southbridge votes not to go private

By Albert Amateau

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Checking the vote tally at Southbridge Towers

Southbridge Towers residents on Wednesday voted narrowly to defeat a proposal to seek preliminary information on dissolving their connection with the Mitchell-Lama program and taking the 1,651-unit co-op private.

The two-day election ended at 8 p.m. March 24 when the two voting machines in the crowded community room of the Downtown complex were closed. Exactly 514 voted against the proposal and 463 in favor.

While the proposal was only to authorize the co-op board of directors to spend $15,000 to investigate the pros and cons of the issue, the vote was widely regarded as a referendum on privatization, which for many years has deeply divided Southbridge residents.

“This was a victory for affordable housing in Lower Manhattan,” said John Fratta, a member of the Southbridge board of directors and an opponent of privatization.

“It looks like the ostriches have won out,” said Lou Trazino, a board member in favor of going private.

Paul Viggiano, who was elected to the 15-member board of directors last year and was selected by the board as its president, said, “The co-op residents have spoken. I don’t foresee a new move in the near future.” Viggiano had said earlier that he was in favor of the proposal to explore the issue.

The board of directors currently has more members in favor of privatization than against, but a new election to replace five of the 15 members is scheduled for May. At Southbridge, a quorum of two thirds of the families is required for a valid election and the 977 votes Thursday was more than enough.

But Warren Green, who was elected to the board last year, said that many residents were out of town so just under 1,000 voted. “If 1,651 had voted, there would have been a good chance for the proposal to pass,” he said. “We will attempt it again, but we can’t decide when. It’s too soon,” he added.

Lolly Sullivan, another board member in favor of going private, said, “We have to move forward, but there are a lot of senior citizens here who don’t want to change – I’m a senior myself. I think we’ll have to wait a few years.”

Under the Mitchell-Lama program, which is intended to promote housing for moderate and middle-income residents, shareholders in the limited equity co-op may only sell their shares back to the co-op if they leave, and new shareholders are selected by lottery from a waiting list.

Mitchell-Lama co-ops like Southbridge are supervised by the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal and may buy out of the program after a time by paying off their state subsidized mortgages. Shareholders may then sell at the market rate.

Last spring, a dispute over the counting of proxy ballots called into question the results of the Southbridge board of directors election involving two candidates, one in favor of and the other against privatization. The election last week did not involve any proxy ballots.

Independence Plaza North across town in Tribeca is a city-regulated Mitchell-Lama rental building whose landlord is taking that complex out of the program. Southbridge is a state-regulated Mitchell-Lama co-op and the decision on whether to remain in the program or quit is up to the shareholder residents.



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