Rats run loose as city slashes pest control workers, construction sites mushroom
It’s a citywide rat attack.Four months after the city cut back on pest control workers, rats are having a field day everywhere from foreclosed homes in Queens to lower Manhattan construction sites. It’s prompted high-level officials to get involved in addressing the scourge. “Steps must be taken to address this serious health and safety problem,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said in a recent letter to infuriated Manhattan residents.
A city program that clears garbage-strewn lots was cut by 75 percent in May, down to 21 workers from 84. It now takes pest control aides months to respond to 311 complaints about neglected properties, workers said. “We’re only going to the worst of the worst,” said Fitz Reid, a union head for the pest control aides. Complaints about rat sightings are up 8 percent from last year, with 6,212 calls as of last month, according to 311 numbers. In stretches of upper Manhattan and the boroughs, foreclosed houses and stalled construction sites have become dumping grounds that attract pests, according to local officials. “We are plagued by rats,” said Yvonne Reddick, a Community Board district manager in Jamaica, where dozens of properties are in foreclosure. The Queens pest workers get at least two-dozen complaints about filthy lots a day, of which the borough’s two workers can only respond to one, Reid said. The aides clean up properties when the landlord refuses to do so, and then issues fines. Down in lower Manhattan, construction has disturbed ancient rat nests, city Department of Health officials said recently. Rats arrived with the earliest settlers and established underground compounds, many of which have remained — until crews starting drilling in recent months. “When they dug up a section of concrete, 50 rats came scurrying out,” said John Fratta, a resident of South Bridge Towers on Fulton Street, which is full of construction. “They are taking over the streets.” Residents of the 1,650-unit complex have forked over more in co-op fees to increase extermination to three times a week, Fratta said. During a recent meeting brokered by Silver, contractors and city officials agreed to step up baiting in lower Manhattan. As for the pest control aides, the layoffs have had “no impact,” according to a Health Department spokeswoman, because the city is still doing inspections and exterminations. Sanitation workers are clearing neglected lots, she said. Still, pest control aides only make $30,000 a year, Reid said, while sanitation workers get $67,141 after five years on the job.