By J. Taylor Basker
Last month Westbeth residents were introduced to Peter Madden, their new Executive Director, at both an in-person Town Hall and on Zoom. He replaced George Cominskie, a resident of Westbeth, who had been acting as Interim Director since January, 2022. Madden proposed a program to address the many challenges to keep the 155-year-old unique artist housing functional.
He introduced the Westbeth Comprehensive Renovation Project which includes elevator repairs, window replacements, repairing and restoring roofs and facades, and renovation of apartments. An area of special concern to residents are the present ongoing extensive renovations of empty apartments, that cause rents to rise. This policy was challenged by a resident who questioned the need for radical renovations rather than just repairs. Madden agreed to revisit this issue. He acknowledged that the timeline for all this work is fluid.
Peter Madden. Photo credit: Westbeth
He announced several energy efficient strategies, including TRV’s—thermostats placed on radiator valves to adjust the temperatures, which in Westbeth can often be too hot or too cold.
A new company is now invited to monitor the boilers, who despite several replacements have not functioned properly since hurricane Sandy. Madden also suggested that Westbeth would invest in sustainable energy, including solar panels in his program of “Energy Efficiency: Reducing Costs, Increasing Costs and Saving the Planet.” He was open to the idea of the greening of Westbeth; there is a group of residents who were meeting before COVID, to put gardens and trees on the roofs to clean the air and provide sanctuary for birds, butterflies, and endangered species. This group, the Westbeth Green New Deal, will resume meeting in June.
Often there have been difficulties for residents attempting to contact management and the office about problems with leaks, laundry room, heating, etc. Madden promised improvement in communication, with updated contact information for staff. As of this writing however, he still was not given an extension in the Westbeth officer voice mail. One must press George Cominskie’s extension to talk to him or leave a message. Westbeth does have the online App “Mobile Doorman” used by some residents to get repairs and receive notices about deliveries, but not all use it. People have predicted Westbeth’s demise for years, however it has managed to survive and should continue its mission of providing reasonable housing for artists with intelligent planning, careful management and holding to its founding vision.
All of this takes money. Westbeth is obtaining funding for Major Capital Improvements (MCIs) however this will come at a price. Westbeth rents will go up related to construction work, but the timing is uncertain. People on Section 8, SCRIE and other subsidies will have the extra rent picked up for them; however, most residents will have to bite the bullet.
Peter Madden’s friendly demeanor and open attitude bodes well for dealing with these difficulties. He had a sympathetic and positive approach when residents asked questions about the floods in the sculpture studio, the excessive renovations of apartments driving up rents and the systematic ignoring of the basic needs of the artists, as studio and storage space as well as suspicions about corruption with contracting. He seems like a really nice guy. The departure of the previous Director, Matthew Russas, was shrouded in secrecy. Some residents are placing bets on how long he will last.