Dozens gathered in front of the Lindsay Park Housing Corporation headquarters on Union Avenue Tuesday night to protest the alleged exclusionary policies of the board members overseeing the running of the corporation.
Chief among the complaints directed towards the board is the lack of transparency in the election process of board members.
Concerned resident shareholders in the Mitchell-Lama style housing development allege that the board is dominated by a “tyrannical,” President, Cora Austin, who along with other elected board members utilize a proxy voting system to deny all residents a chance to voice their opinion.
“This system abuses people’s trust and preys on the people that it should serve,” said Ronny Wasserstrom, one of the members of the Shareholders for Betterment of Lindsay Park, the group that is seeking to end the alleged corruption among the Housing Corporation Board Members. “The use of proxies has made popular elections here passé.”
The Lindsay Park Housing Corporation Board is comprised of 21 members, each of whom is voted-in in elections open to all residents of the seven-building housing development. Elections take place once a year, usually in the fall, and board members are elected for two-year terms – hence elections alternate between electing 10 members one year and 11 members the next.
Being co-operatively owned as part of the Mitchell-Lama program, the number of shareholders in the housing corporation corresponds to the number of units in the entire development – 2,702.
A number of those shareholders are now arguing that they have been left out of the process managing the development and playing a role in its future.
The current bylaws of the corporation allow for the collection of proxy votes – meaning residents can appoint an individual to cast a vote on their behalf instead of choosing a candidate directly. Members of the Shareholders for the Betterment of Lindsay Park argue that existing board members are using this policy to coerce residents to turn in their proxy votes to maintain the existing makeup of the board.
This, the Betterment group alleges, has allowed the board to incorporate a series of policies – such as increasing rents and appointing individuals to job positions available at the development, that are not reflective of the needs of the entire community.
“We need to go back to a time when tenants lived in harmony here,” said Elizabeth Blizinska, a member of the Betterment group, and a resident who has lived there for over 40 years. “I left Poland to move to the United States to live in a democracy and not in fear and dictatorship like we experience at Lindsay Park. We need to win our democracy back.”
The Betterment group created a petition –which has already amassed close to 1,000 signatures from residents – asking the Board of Directors to call a special meeting to amend the existing bylaws, limit the number of proxies that may be issued, and an increased level of transparency in the voting process.
So far, concerned residents have received the support of local electeds like Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna and Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, the latter of whom was present at the protest Tuesday night.
“This is not about a President or a Board, this is about democracy,” said Reynoso. “When you are not happy with your representation you should have a right to change it.”
An August 14 letter from development President Austin to the board of directors calls for a Town Hall meeting on September 15, earlier than the regular annual meeting to discuss the controversy brewing at the houses.
“The purpose of the Town Hall Meeting will be to address the issues and allegations that have been levied against us by ‘The Shareholders for the Better of Lindsay Park,’” part of the letter reads.
According to the housing bylaws the board now has between 10 to 40 days to respond to the Betterment group’s petition, the latter of which will decide whether to pursue legal action based on that response.