In response to years of alleged mismanagement, corruption and harassment of residents, shareholders of Williamsburg’s Lindsay Park, the largest Mitchell-Lama affordable housing co-op in Brooklyn, are attempting to amend their by-laws for the first time in the complex’s fifty-year history. The goal is ensure a more fair election process for board members and increased transparency and accountability, the petitioners claim.
“We’ve seen too many shareholders priced out of this precious affordable housing due to outrageous maintenance fee increases,” said Ronny Wasserstrom of Shareholders for the Betterment of Lindsay Park. “There should be a board that appropriately reflects the co-op’s members, not a blank check through proxies obtained by intimidation. You are the faces that should be reflected on the board, am I right?”
The crowd responded strongly with applause and shouts of encouragement.
City Councilmember Antonio Reynoso also participated in the protest. His office began working with constituents earlier this year, after numerous resident complaints highlighted a flawed process for electing their Board of Directors.
“We’ve seen more participants in our monthly gatherings than the board sees in its annual official meeting,” Reynoso said. “The residents clearly feel that something is wrong, but that they’re powerless to change it. That stops with this petition.”
One of the few bright spots amidst a city-wide housing crisis, Mitchell-Lama co-ops like Linsday Park–a sprawling network of modest high rises–are able to provide a rare opportunity for lower and middle-income residents to not simply rent, but own affordable units in an increasingly expensive city (through a combination of eminent domain and tax abatements to developers).
But new Mitchell-Lama projects came to a halt long ago (and more have reverted to market-rate), and so with the existing apartments increasingly coveted, the management of the entire complex has fallen into cronyism, critics claim. Problems include an extensive waiting list often circumvented by those with personal connections (and/or bribes), sky-high maintenance fees (with little explanation or accountability), and rule by an iron-fist board of directors via “blank check” proxy votes extorted from residents through a mix of confusion and intimidation, leading to little democratic representation.
“The complex has seen a 24.5% increase in its maintenance fees in just the last three years,” an aide to Councilmember Reynoso said. The largest Mitchell-Lama property in Brooklyn and the second largest in the city, it houses 2,700 families comprising some 8,000 total residents who otherwise could not afford the increasingly gentrifying neighborhood.
But Lindsay Park is no stranger to such allegations, even before the current real estate development rush. Racial bias favoring Asian residents over long-waiting black and latino newcomers (via bribes) permeated over a decade ago, with an official audit in 2001 and a suspicious murder of two prominent asian co-op members in charge of the waiting list, their deaths alleged to have a link to their role at the complex.
Today, the complex is alleged to be ruled by “monarch” Cora D. Austin, President of Lindsay Park’s Board of Directors. Ms. Austin and the Board claim the maintenance increases were part of a comprehensive plan to stabilize the complex’s troubled finances, tied to a 2003 renegotiation of its $105 million mortgage, a legacy debt from when the project was first completed in 1965. But disgruntled petitioners claim that a lack of any means to independently verify such claims necessitates an independent and comprehensive forensic accounting, and the end of a board that rules under a false claim of the consent of its members.
“This is about having the right to change your representation when you want to,” Reynoso said.
According to those gathered, the petition has been or will eventually be signed by over 900 shareholders and is the first step to a special meeting where shareholders would vote on the proposed amendments. The specific change to the by-laws would end the undemocratic use and abuse of “blank check” proxies by naming candidates on proxies and limiting the number of proxies one can collect. The meeting would also address the issue of maintenance increases which have doubled the cost of living in Lindsay Park over the past decade, jeopardizing the affordability of the housing complex.
“Shareholders for the betterment of Lindsay Park” is also urging elected officials, legal organizations and the city to support their efforts to bring more democratic and transparent governance to the largest Mitchell-lama cooperative in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn Brief has reached out to Ms. Austin and the Board of the Lindsay Park co-op for comment, and can update this article if or when they respond.