Privatizers romp at Southbridge

The privatization slate at Southbridge Towers swept the complex’s board of directors election last week to maintain its dominance of the board.

All five members of the slate were elected including two new members, Nicholas Morrone and Benjamin Azaraev. Southbridge Rights, the group that favors leaving the Mitchell-Lama middle class program, continues to hold 14 of the 15 seats on the board. The seat of the lone dissenter, John Fratta, will be up for election next year and Fratta will be prevented from running because of term limits.

The decision to leave the Mitchell-Lama will be up to each of the 1,651 homes so the board makeup will not affect the outcome, but the vote does indicate support for the board and perhaps its outlook.

“It certainly shows they still want to move forward and they have confidence in the current government,” said board president Wally Dimson, who also won last week.

Victor Papa, a past board president who has opposed privatization in the past, lost his bid to rejoin the board, collecting 310 votes. The winning slate doubled his vote count, getting between 595 and 645 votes.

Papa also thought Dimson’s slate has governed well and he agreed that residents are looking to move forward to learn more about privatization.

“People really want a black book,” Papa said referring to the comprehensive document detailing Southbridge’s decision that is being prepared. “They want to see it.”

Dimson said he is optimistic his side will be able to secure the 1,100 or so votes needed to approve the black book, since they got close to that amount on the vote to proceed with the study a few years ago. Papa said reaching the two thirds majority needed will be tough for the other side.

Dimson said the unapproved report, known as a “red herring,” should be ready to be filed with the state attorney general by next month. That will begin a four-month public comment period, followed by a stringent review by the A.G.’s office. Once the A.G. certifies its soundness and accuracy, the report becomes known as a “black book” and will be ready for a final vote by Southbridge residents, likely to be sometime in 2010.

Residents currently own shares in the complex but they cannot sell their homes on the open market. If they vote to leave Mitchell-Lama, each resident will get full ownership of his or her apartment, but the anti-privatizers argue that the added real estate taxes will negate the benefits of acquiring a new asset. The black book is expected to have an opt-out provision for tenants who prefer to pay rent with protections against market rate increases.

— Josh Rogers