I am the director and founder of
Apartment House Institute (AHI), a unit of the Division of Continuing Education of New
York City Technical College of the City University of New York. AHI is organizing a technical
society of New York multifamily building maintenance personnel, the Superintendents
Club of New York.
(In New York, the title
"Superintendent" is equivalent to the title, "Custodian" or
"Caretaker" used in other parts of the country. Often called "Super,"
he (rarely she) may work alone or be in charge of a maintenance staff that includes a
handyman, porters and, in luxury buildings, doormen and a concierge.)
The responsibilities of building
superintendents are becoming more highly technical as the technology of building
operations becomes more complex, and more critical as efficiency of building operations
affect housing's "bottom line", due to ever higher energy, water and building
maintenance costs. On the other side of the coin are buildings' generation of atmospheric
pollution. Hence, the professionalizing of supers increases in importance.
AHI was created in the seventies
in response to the advent of the energy crisis and its devastating impact on the viability
of housing, especially low- and moderate-income multifamily buildings. Rapidly escalating
costs for heating fuel and electricity were significant factors in landlord abandonment.
A study by the NYC Department of
Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) showed that the level of maintenance in
multifamily buildings of all income levels was abysmal and that fuel consumption in poorer
buildings, for instance, was often six times that which would be required in a well
maintained building. AHI's objective was to train owners, managers and maintenance
personnel to operate and maintain their buildings efficiently. Of these, the
"supers" constituted a unique challenge to us.
With rare exceptions, building
superintendents have little opportunity to share expertise, to learn of new equipment and
maintenance procedures, etc., because they are isolated in their own buildings. There are
no periodicals written for superintendents.
By contrast, building owners have
their real estate organizations and publications and the building managers, theirs. Hence,
the incentive to enable maintenance personnel to have their own industry organization and
Seven years ago, we experimented
with the concept by organizing an Hispanic Supers Technical Association in the Spanish speaking
neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn called "Los Sures" (in English,
Southside) with a small grant from the now defunct NYS Energy Office. We were provided
space for the club by the neighborhood local housing development fund corporation, which
released its maintenance employees to meet every Wednesday from eleven a.m. to noon.
Members paid modest monthly dues, elected officers and chose topics and speakers for
Speakers from the college,
Brooklyn Union Gas Company, the manufacturer of the most common type of heating control,
etc. provided useful information. After the meetings, beverages and snacks were served.
The grant ended in a little over a year, before AHI had been able to make the club
self-sufficient, so it no longer exists. Still, the enthusiasm of its members, especially
for the content of the meetings, proved the value of the concept of a Supers Technical Association.
The members of the Los Sures Club,
being drawn from very low-income buildings, were, by and large, semi-literate. With the
advantage of drawing upon a larger area (the entire city rather than one neighborhood) and
from both low- and moderate-income buildings, from the affordable, private and cooperative
sectors, we could expect to find among the members more suitable leadership material.
In March of this year, we received
a grant from the New York office of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to create
a technical society of housing maintenance personnel. The director in charge of the Urban
Technology Institute at the college brought in an additional sponsor, the US Department of
Energy's Argonne National Laboratory (ANL). ANL sees the budding Club as a vehicle for
transferring housing energy conservation expertise developed in the laboratory to the
"inner city." The Argonne representative, in turn, informed the Boston office of
DOE of our work. The Boston office has enrolled the Club as a "Rebuild America"
partner and is seeking funding for energy conservation work in the members' buildings.
The Club, which meets monthly at
our college, has conducted seven meetings, the last two with technical presentations on
lighting efficiency and window maintenance. On the 20th of this month, the monthly meeting
will be a field trip to the Real Estate Expo of the New York Association of Realty
Managers. This will be the first time that the members will have attended a trade show. By
going in a group, the experience will not be intimidating. November's meeting will feature
a presentation on pest control. January and February will be devoted to heating topics.
The media find the Club of great
interest. At the outset, Habitat, a leading magazine for cooperatives, published a
long article on our organizational efforts. Recently, the president of the Club and I were
guests on a real estate radio program. More recently, a large article on the Club in the New
York Times drew not only calls from building owners for information on the Club to
give to their superintendents but offers from several sources to make presentations at
future meetings. Among these are a consulting engineer who will talk on "How NOT to
maintain a building" at the March 1999 meeting, and the office of the Manhattan
District Attorney, who will address the supers on the importance of calling the DA's
office upon any evidence that drug dealers or prostitutes are doing business in their
Member recruitment started with
superintendents in my class in Managing Maintenance. Now, we are helped by notices
in the newsletters of Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, which
represents the affordable housing groups in the city, and Council of New York
Cooperatives. An important recruiter has been the superintendent training program of
Housing Preservation & Development (HPD), which reproduces the Club's monthly
newsletter, Super!, distributing it to its trainees.
The goal is to create an
independent technical society within two years, to be able to conduct itself and finance
its activities. Hence, while I counsel, I make every effort to have the members make all
decisions, setting meeting dates and topics. This is a new experience for the members, who
have to be reminded that I am not the boss; they are!. They elected a president, a
vice president/membership secretary, and a treasurer. They are learning how to function as
organization officers. They are learning about Robert's Rules of Order. They set the dues
for superintendents at $25 a year, of handymen and porters at $15, and of Associate
Members (vendors) at $100.
I function as the Secretary pro tem,
writing, printing and mailing Super! to a large mailing list cobbled together from the
directory of New York Association of Housing and Rehabilitation Officials, a list of
client housing companies supplied by the New York office of The Enterprise Foundation, a
list of Bronx landlords, etc. We are taking steps to incorporate in New York State and
then to apply for federal 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. In the meanwhile, dues collected
are deposited to the Club's account in our college's own 501(c)(3) foundation. All
expenditures from the account must be approved by the Executive Committee (the officers).
Because I am a professional person, who has been an active member and an officer of
various professional organizations, typically American, all these things come easily to
Through our sponsors, and through
presentations to other groups, I hope that our Superintendents Club will be replicated in
many other urban areas. I will happily share any details that you need, will put any who
ask on the mailing list to receive copies of Super!, and will appreciate any
information on similar efforts elsewhere from which I may learn some valuable lessons.
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