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Bedbugs Turned This Co-op Into a Community

New York City

Bedbug Upside
Sept. 3, 2019

Habitat spoke recently with Marsha Kolker, vice president of Sandberg Management.

You had a bedbug problem that led to something else. But first, tell us about the bedbugs.

An older gentleman in one of my buildings did not realize he had an infestation. By the time we got into it, it was a bigger deal than it needed to be. We brought in the pest-control company, and it treated the problem. But what the experience brought out was the fact that in this particular co-op there are some elderly people who are getting up there. And rather than contacting social services or people's families, the board decided to deal with the problem of aging in-house.

How did it do that?

First, we discussed it, and the people on the board felt comfortable contacting this gentleman directly, having a meeting with him, seeing how they could help him understand what to look for in terms of bedbugs. They asked him, "What can we do to help you stay in your home for as long as possible?"

So bedbugs morphed into aging in place? 

Yes, instead of having to move into a nursing home, or a facility, or having to move out of New York to go live with family elsewhere. This way, he can stay in his home that he’s been in for the last 30 years.

Here’s what the board did: there are certain people on different days who check on him to see what he needs. Does he need groceries? Does he need to be taken to the doctor? And so there is this huge community feeling that comes from doing that. People feel like they’re part of a community rather than individuals living alone in apartments.

Is this a formal committee, or do people just check on him?

At first it was just board members, but then they reached out to the broader network. It goes beyond bed bugs. Some buildings will be modernizing elevators, especially with the new code coming up. There are a lot of older people living on higher floors, so what do you do in those situations? Does the person have to move out? Stay with family elsewhere? It’s the same issue. They want to be able to stay in their home. So buildings are setting up committees to help older people with groceries, with laundry, with anything that needs to be done, especially while the elevator is out. And that seems to be leading to more community efforts all around.

These situations have prompted shareholders to say: “Hey, we could do this as a community. We have younger people who care about this community, who want to help the older residents who have been here a long time and watched our kids grow up.” So it’s becoming more and more of a community.

So bedbugs brought the building together? 

Bedbugs led to a community. Bedbugs led to people feeling like they wanted to do something to help. In New York, we’re busy. We’re living our own lives. We don’t even look up when we’re walking. And in this situation, it turned out that people looked up, and they want to be there for their neighbors. I find it absolutely beautiful to see.

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