New Yorkers are well aware the city has a rat problem, and they are getting more vocal about it.
Complaints about the rodents to the city’s 311 line rose 10% last year and have risen each year since 2014, according to a recent analysis, conducted by the apartment rental site Renthop.com.
Among neighborhoods, Bedford-Stuyvesant had the most gripes about the long-tailed mammals in 2017, followed by Harlem and the Upper West Side.
Of the boroughs, Brooklyn had the most total complaints, with 7,253, followed by Manhattan, with 4,507, the most per square mile, according to the analysis.
The Upper West Side drew attention last summer when parents in the neighborhood reported rats jumping into strollers in search of food.
“They’re everywhere, sometimes they’re in people’s houses,” said Jonathan Vargas, a lifelong resident of the Upper West Side, on Wednesday afternoon as he was dog-walking in Riverside Park. “Especially, it’s crazy in the summertime, because that’s when all the garbage is out.”
A New York City Health Department official was quick to point out that a high number of complaints doesn’t necessarily indicate a higher number of rats.
“Rat complaints aren’t an accurate measure of the number of rats in a given neighborhood,” said Caroline Bragdon, director of Neighborhood Interventions for Pest Control Services at the health department.
The health department says some neighborhoods have higher concentrations of rats than others. The city has a rat information portal that lets residents view where recent rodent inspections took place, and whether or not the building passed. The health department conducts an inspection whenever it receives a complaint, in addition to performing its own proactive inspections throughout the city.
“In New York City, rats are a quality-of-life problem,” Ms. Bragdon said. “Nobody wants to walk down their block and see rats, they don’t want to pick up their kids from school and see rats.”
The city doesn’t have a figure for the number of rats that live in the city, and estimates vary. In 2014, Jonathan Aucherbach, a doctoral student at Columbia University estimated the population to be around 2 million.
Elected officials on both the state and city levels have been working with the health department to combat the problem. In the fall, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced $750,000 in funding to eradicate rats in parks on the Upper West Side. Earlier this year, the mayor announced a plan to step up rat eradication at the city’s public housing projects, aiming to lower the rat population by 70%.
The annual increase in rat complaints slowed last year after rising more than 30% for the previous two years, according to the data provided by Renthop.com.
New York City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, whose district includes the Upper West Side, has used discretionary funds to introduce Bigbelly trash bins—solar-powered receptacles that compact trash and are sealed off to vermin—as well as to increase the rate of trash pickup in Riverside Park.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Rosenthal said she wasn’t surprised to hear about the high number of complaints coming from the Upper West Side. Her district office has “made a big effort to encourage people with anything, any quality-of-life issue, to call 311,” the spokeswoman said.
New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, whose district includes the neighborhood, has also joined the fight against rats.
“It’s no surprise the Upper West Side is among the top three neighborhoods for rat complaints citywide for 2017; any one of my constituents who used the parks or playgrounds last summer would tell you that it was the rodents that ruled the roost,” Ms. Rosenthal said.
The spike in rat sightings happens every summer, said the city health department’s Ms. Bragdon. Warmer weather means more people in parks leaving food waste for the rats, which breed during the summer.
After the increase in rat complaints and multiple failed inspections on the Upper West Side, city departments have been coordinating to ramp up the effort against rats.
Ms. Bragdon said the health department has been working with parks to reduce litter and open food waste, as well as working with schools to reduce food waste left out on curbs. The extermination teams have also adopted dry ice as a safe method of killing rodents. “Everyone has a role in rat control,” Ms. Bragdon said.
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