Rat infestations are growing at public housing developments around New York City — and so are the rats themselves, according to fed up NYCHA residents.
Darlene Waters, who leads the tenant association at NYCHA’s Elliott-Chelsea Houses, said she’s seen more and more rats in recent months. Visits from exterminators seemed to have accomplished the opposite of their intended effect.
“I think it definitely got worse,” said Waters. “They're so big. It's like whatever they put down there fed them and they got bigger.”
In Mayor Eric Adams' war on rats, the 335 NYCHA developments he oversees compose a major front. But pest complaints at the developments are on the rise.
In 2022, pest-related work orders at NYCHA spiked sharply from a low of 2,500 to nearly 7,500 at the end of the year, according to the data published by a court-appointed monitor overseeing NYCHA.
The monitor, Bart Schwartz, attributed the infestation to a growing backlog of unaddressed complaints.
“Taking into account both ‘new’ and ‘active’ complaints, we believe the level of infestation is growing again,” the monitor wrote in November. NYCHA disputed the conclusion and insisted that new pest complaints were in decline.
The rats are especially mobile at night outside the Elliott-Chelsea Houses' nursery school, said resident Robert Omana. “You can see as many as 10 of them wandering around,” he said.
NYCHA spokesperson Nekoro Gomes said the agency will spend $619 million over the next six years to improve waste management and pest control.
“These investments will transform the way NYCHA collects, stores and removes trash at our developments – reducing rodent complaints and improving resident quality of life,” Gomes added.
Gomes said the Elliott-Chelsea Houses have been treated for rodents 62 times since June. The development is expected to replace its interior compactor this spring to further reduce rat infestations.
But Councilmember Erik Bottcher, who helped allocate additional rat bait for the Elliott-Chelsea Houses last week, said NYCHA must do more.
“When a private property owner has a rodent infestation, they get held accountable by the Department of Health. They get fines from the Department of Health. NYCHA does not. So one of the worst offenders in rat mitigation in the city of New York is the city of New York,” Bottcher said.
The NYCHA monitor credited the agency for improving response times to pest complaints, but cautioned that “quicker response times do not necessarily equate to better remediations.”
Rat infestations are evident in other NYCHA developments, residents said.
Danny Barber of the Andrew Jackson Houses in the South Bronx said the rodent problems are another sign of how the government neglects NYCHA.
“The rats are running through public housing because no one is investing really in NYCHA to make sure that these things change and don't go back to business as it used to be,” said Barber, who’s the head of the Citywide Council of Presidents that represents NYCHA tenant associations.
Some developments have ripped out flower gardens and landscaping to deter rat burrows and replaced them with concrete and mesh patches, said Aixa Torres of the Alfred Smith Houses in Lower Manhattan.
Torres said the bare patches added to the sense of neglect, but she saw no other option.
“I would come out at night and the rats would be running in the garden,” Torres said. “And I’m terrified of rats.”