The Hummel Report: Little Cooperation at the Cooperative

In spring 1985, the federal government deeded more than 38 acres of land, along with 96 units of long-boarded-up Navy housing, to a non-profit group that formed to help provide affordable housing in North Kingstown.

Even the name — The Association to Save Quonset Affordable Housing — or ASQAH as it is known in town, indicated the units would be designated for primarily low- and moderate-income families. The ASQAH cooperative bought the land for $1; with it came a 30-year deed restriction aimed at preserving it as affordable housing.

Ellen Amicarelli, who worked for years in the mortgage lending industry, was intrigued because ASQAH was termed a housing cooperative. Amicarelli said the property manager for the development told her in 2013 she could buy in for just under $5,000. He called it a subscription fee with a monthly rent — what they termed a carrying charge — of $531. She says he told her, and the bylaws reinforced, that Amicarelli could get back the cost of improvements if she decided to leave.

Amicarelli said many of the residents she spoke with at the time said there was a buzz that when the 30-year deed restriction came off in 2015, the property could sell for millions and those who lived here — and had bought in — would divide the revenue.

So Amicarelli moved into Number 81, spending $20,000 of her own money to transform a dilapidated unit into an attractive one. She has had health problems and financial challenges and saw it as an investment to securing future income as she has no pension.

Then Amicarelli started asking questions, wanting to see financial statements. After all, the original mortgage of $1.3 million from 1985 still has a substantial balance and ASQAH takes in more than half a million dollars a year from the residents. Where does all that money go? And what about the $5,000 subscription fee to get in? Amicarelli ran into an unresponsive board of directors and was quickly painted a trouble-maker.

She has tried to get answers from HUD, Rhode Island Housing, the town of North Kingstown and others, all of which have distanced themselves from ASQAH, saying they had little involvement with or no control over the cooperative.

When Amicarelli  tried to sell her unit more than a year ago and recoup what she put in from a willing buyer, the board blocked her, according to a lawsuit she filed in Superior Court in June.

“They don’t know what they’re doing. And they’re taking big risks with these people’s property and money,” said Warwick Attorney Carl DeLuca, who represents Amicarelli, adding he has spoken with some ASQAH residents in preparation for filing the lawsuit.

“I understand there’s been a lot of intimidation from talking to some of the residents there; people who have tried to find out what’s going on have been ostracized. They basically defame them, slander them, call them names and tell people not to listen to them because they’re crazy or stupid or whatever. People tried to bring up stuff, and the board of directors just walked out of the meeting. Just left.”

The board president, Thomas Gosselin, did not respond to our requests for an interview. We had trouble even finding out who is on the board of directors or any other information because state law does not require ASQAH to list any of it publicly or file a yearly report, as virtually every other corporation in the state is required to do.

Many of the units are in run-down condition. Even though Amicarelli has made significant improvements to hers, the bathroom is still a problem, with leaks and mold, and  she says management refuses to fix the problem.

DeLuca says she is not alone. “These were low income housing units — they should have been in good shape when they were given to people. People shouldn’t have had to go in there and fix anything,” he said.

DeLuca says as a cooperative the residents could vote out the board and fire the management company whenever they want, but many are hesitant because they see how Amicarelli has been treated. “They’re afraid. They don’t want to lose what they have over there, so when they’re told to shut up and get in line, which has happened in this case, they shut up and get in line. Sometimes they grumble and they’re knocked down and they don’t talk anymore.”

Amicarelli has pleaded with HUD and the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office to investigate, so far to no avail. She is hoping her lawsuit will get some answers.

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization that relies, in part, on your tax-deductible contributions. If you have a story idea or want make a donation go to hummelreport.org, where you can also see the video version of this story. You can also mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.org.

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