N.Y. Multifamily Owner Donates Apartments To Out-Of-Town Volunteer Health Workers
When Iram Khan, a doctor based in Connecticut, answered a call in early April to volunteer in the coronavirus pandemic’s epicenter in the Bronx, she wondered how she could possibly work a 12-hour shift and make the two-hour commute from her home where her husband and three children live with her.
“I wasn’t even sure what I was going to do, the only option I had was to come back-and-forth,” she told Bisnow in an interview last week. “I was thinking of asking one of my family members to give me a ride every day.”
Then, officials at BronxCares, the hospital where Khan is volunteering, told her there was an opportunity to live in an apartment next to the hospital for free. She was relieved, she said, and moved in right away.
“All I have to do is sleep there and because it’s right next door to the hospital, I don’t have to wait for the commute,” she said. “I don’t have to worry that my kids are going to be affected, I don’t have to worry about anything.”
Khan is one of more than 40 out-of-town medical professionals in the Bronx and Queens who are temporarily living in a Goldfarb Properties apartment free of charge while they care for city residents who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Around the city, there has been a demand for housing for both local and out-of-town healthcare workers and volunteers. The city has attempted to meet that need by partnering with hotels to provide rooms for up to 28 days.
Goldfarb Properties wanted to help, filling up 40 of its previously vacant units in two locations with healthcare workers from other parts of the country. The agreements last two months, but Goldfarb plans to extend them as long as necessary, Managing Partner Phillip Goldfarb told Bisnow.
Other multifamily landlords have chipped in to help the relief effort or provide financial assistance to their ailing tenants. In Brooklyn, landlord Mario Salerno canceled rent for tenants in his 18 multifamily buildings. Blackstone promised New York City $15M to help healthcare workers and food delivery companies. RXR Realty gave $1M to the relief effort in New Rochelle, where it is serving as master developer for the city's downtown redevelopment.
New York was considered the epicenter of the global pandemic for much of the month of April. As of Monday night, 319,000 New Yorkers had contracted COVID-19 and 19,415 had died from the disease since the first case was discovered in the state in late February. The outbreak in the city reached its peak in mid-April, and deaths have been on a steady decline since. On Monday, 266 deaths were reported in the city.
Over the past seven years, Goldfarb has been moving its investments toward residential and office spaces that catered to the medical community. They have built relationships with the hospitals and were able to use those relationships to provide the apartments to the workers and volunteers, Goldfarb said.
The company offered 20 units in the building where Khan is living and 20 units in a building near St. John's Episcopal Hospital in Queens, all of which are filled, with one or more healthcare workers in each unit. The company also offered apartments for workers in Midtown Manhattan, but workers in that neighborhood decided to stay in hotel rooms instead, Goldfarb said.
For the volunteers — who came from as far as Texas and Florida — the neighborhoods where they are now based were completely new to them, said Goldfarb Vice President of Operations Trevor Schaper, who was the volunteers' point person for the partnership.
“When you come looking at apartments in one of our buildings, you thoroughly research the neighborhood and the building and the properties so you know it well,” he said. “These folks are coming in and working in these hospitals, sight unseen, they don’t know anywhere where to go for dinner, so I was trying to walk them through that personally in the beginning. So when I was speaking to these people, I would check with them a couple of times a day.”
Khan treats patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 for 12 hours a day, three days in a row, she said. She stays in the apartment for those days. Sometimes, her sister-in-law, who works weekends, stays in the apartment with her.
On Khan’s days off, she feels safe to go back to her home in Connecticut. Her children — a 15-year-old and 12-year-old twins — make her a cup of tea and urge her to relax while she is there, she said.
“They miss me … this is the month of Ramadan for us. We’re all fasting and we [usually] fast altogether,” she said. “But they are very open and encouraging me to do whatever I can, and they never show me that they are in any sort of trouble, they are always there to encourage me.”
Khan said the program, which has allowed her to keep her family safe while she works to fight the virus, is emblematic of the humanity she has seen amid the darkness she has encountered in the hospital each day.
“There is still good in humanity. It’s the doctors, it’s the nurses, it’s the cleaning staff, it’s the feeding staff … I’ve seen street vendors giving free food out,” she said. “The social distancing … has made us close in our hearts.”