Wall Street Journal on
Westbeth’s response to pandemic

Mai Khoi delivering food boxes for Westbeth ERC. photo: Christina Maile

Wall Street Journal
New York City’s Neighbors Lend Helping Hands During Pandemic
By Charles Passy
May 30, 2020 9:00 am ET

Buddy programs in apartment complexes ensure no resident is forgotten amid coronavirus

When the pandemic hit New York City, David Sussman worried how he would get by day-to-day with a host of tasks.

Mr. Sussman, 56 years old, suffers from a lung disease and couldn’t risk leaving his apartment in the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village complex on Manhattan’s East Side. He knew he could rely on his circle of friends for only so much assistance.

But as it turned out, Mr. Sussman didn’t have to contact them all that much. Through a program offered by the complex’s management, Mr. Sussman was connected to a fellow resident, Matt Peterson, 31, who has helped him with everything from taking down his trash to picking up mail.

“A lot of anxiety was lifted off me,” said Mr. Sussman.

So much for the reputation of New Yorkers being brusque and uncaring. During the pandemic, they have stepped up to help neighbors in myriad ways, often through buddy programs or similar initiatives.

In the case of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, a decades-old complex of 11,200 apartments that is now owned by investment firm Blackstone Group Inc. and real-estate company Ivanhoé Cambridge, there has been a surplus of volunteers for its pandemic program. About 1,400 signed up, which turned out to be far more than needed, according to Rick Hayduk, the complex’s chief executive and general manager.

The volunteers aren’t only directly connecting with neighbors and helping with tasks that also include grocery shopping. They are also organizing a food-pantry program and distributing boxes of goods to those within the complex and throughout the city.

At Westbeth Artists Housing, an affordable-housing complex with nearly 400 units in Manhattan’s West Village, a neighbors-helping-neighbors program was created at the onset of the pandemic in 36 hours.

Westbeth board member George Cominskie spearheaded the effort and has since helped run it with almost a militarylike efficiency, assigning “captains” to every floor in the complex so that no tenant is overlooked. He said the roughly 35 volunteers have handled duties for their fellow residents ranging from changing a bathroom light to accompanying them to a medical appointment.

Even Westbeth residents who are mobile and able to easily get out of the house appreciate the extra support. Kathryn Kates, a busy veteran actress who lives in the complex, said she was thrilled when the volunteer team was able to get her a face mask and goggles when she needed them.

“It feels like we have a family here,” she said.

At other buildings, the help that is offered among neighbors extends to those who have vacated the city. At the Parkline, a rental property with 254 units in Brooklyn’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens, some residents are volunteering to pet sit or water plants, according to Alison Novak, a principal with Hudson Cos., the real-estate firm that owns the building.

Ms. Novak said that encouraging such involvement also helps her company’s bottom line, noting that if residents feel they have all the support they need, they are more likely to stay in the building.

“They’re part of a community,” she said.

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