Hoarders Now Number Among Renovation Headaches

Penn South has a problem with its pack rat residents.

Penn South has a problem with its pack rat residents.

There are so many unexpected problems that can arise during major renovations—interior demolition work reveals not only water damage, deterioration, rot, asbestos, rodents but, as Penn South recently discovered, hoarders.

Elderly hoarders at the affordable housing complex in Chelsea, which is undergoing a massive project to replace its heating and cooling systems, are costing the co-op a staggering $40 million, according to DNAinfo. And that’s in addition to the $100 million that the complex is already spending on workers and materials.

In order to complete the system overhaul, workers must conduct extensive demolition work, tearing down walls to replace the pipes. The problem is that many of the complex’s residents are elderly, and many of them are loathe to part with the possessions they’ve amassed over a lifetime, meaning that clearing out their apartments and temporarily relocating them during construction has proved to be a $40 million problem—a sum that’s gone to pay for a social worker, additional moving staff and construction costs that have mounted as the project drags on for a year beyond its expected completion date.

“We had a much bigger problem than we could ever have imagined, specifically because of the hoarders,” Brendan Keany, the co-op’s general manager, told DNAinfo.

Mr. Keany claims that the 2,820-unit complex has upwards of 180 hoarders, which seems a little high given that two to four percent of the population is said to be affected by the disorder. We suspect that at least some of the so-called hoarders are simply clutterbugs with a lifetime of possessions crammed into relatively small Manhattan apartments rather than people suffering from a form of OCD.

Nonetheless, both clutterbugs and full-blown hoarders can prove costly, and the building has hired 31 new staffers to help residents sort through their belongings, as well as a full-time social worker who runs a weekly support group. The co-op has also resorted to initiating eviction proceedings against particularly stubborn residents in a bid to force them to clean out their apartments.

Naturally, there has been some opposition—elderly residents retrieving discarded belongings from the dumpster late at night, arguing with workers over what they see as an invasion of their homes and their privacy, and, inevitably, some Nazi comparisons.

“They’re out to make the rabbi homeless,” as one of the residents, an elderly rabbi, told DNAinfo. “If you were in Germany in 1938 and they did that, you’d call them fascists, Nazis.”