Pandemic-related budget cuts have resulted in more trash piling up on city sidewalks, leading to an increase in rat complaints to 311 since the start of the pandemic. Some local officials are now calling on the city to take immediate steps to address "the overflowing litter baskets and increased rat sightings along the city’s commercial corridors."
U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat, who represents Upper Manhattan and parts of the West Bronx, and NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer held a joint news conference on Tuesday at 125th Street in Harlem to talk about how the garbage piling up around the city is hurting small businesses as well as creating a "welcome mat for the rats of our city."
Rat sightings reported to 311 citywide have increased from less than 1,000 in April to 1,658 in June, Stringer said. "These rats have the run of NYC, and if we don't get this under control now, we can fahgettaboudit," Stringer told reporters. "I say to the mayor today: wake up. Get out here and see what's going on. This is the city that you manage. Own it. Stop throwing your hands up because you had to make a small budget cut to the sanitation department, which is less of a cut than other agencies have taken. This is a poor excuse for bad management."
NY Senator Brian Benjamin echoed his sentiments, saying the trash is a "visible manifestation of lack of interest, of lack of resources. It's all interrelated."
Espaillat even invoked Pizza Rat, the unofficial mascot of the subway: "Nobody wants to go into a restaurant full of garbage around, who wants to eat there?" he said. "You all remember the rat carrying the pizza? It went viral. Now, this is like Rat City because of too much garbage in the streets."
Stringer and Espaillat sent a letter to DSNY Commissioner Kathryn Garcia today asking for a plan on how to stop the overflow of trash. They offered a few recommendations, including working with Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and business owners "to provide flexibility to businesses that want to add street bins at their own expense and broadening the 'Clean Curbs' pilot program."
In response to the press conference, a DSNY spokesperson told Gothamist, "As the mayor has made clear, the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on our economy continues, the City needs federal aid or long-term borrowing authority more than ever. Without these, we could be further forced to cut core services even further. As always, we rely on the partnership of our fellow New Yorkers – residents and business alike – to keep our City clean, and we’re grateful for their cooperation."
The new city budget saw $106 million cut from the Department of Sanitation, with up to a 60% reduction in public litter basket pickup. Garcia told CBS last month that the increase numbers of people staying home in some neighborhoods—because of the pandemic—has led to an increase in the amount of trash left outside. “Our trucks are filling up very quickly as we make it around the route in some neighborhoods because people are home,” Garcia said.
The Parks Department has also had its budget slashed by nearly $85 million, leaving many parks in Brooklyn and the Bronx "littered with trash and overgrown with high, unmowed grass."
Rat sighting complaints to 311 have grown in the city over the last five years, up over 30% between 2014 and 2019, from 12,617 in 2014 to 16,809 in 2019.
In the early months of the pandemic, there was a dip in the number of rat complaints, which could be attributed to fewer people being going outside to encounter them. At this point, they are back to pre-pandemic levels equal to the highs of 2019; there were 1,866 rat complaints in July 2019 compared with 1,858 in July 2020.
The CDC has also warned cities in lockdown to expect "unusual or aggressive rodent behavior” as rats hunt for food. When we spoke to rat expert Bobby Corrigan in April, he said, “After we come out of this COVID thing, hopefully, and we’re back to business as usual, if those same areas don’t do their trash right, or we are once again putting back food into bags and just putting them out at night for collection anytime later, one rat will start growing pretty quick with a family and in six months they can replace whatever was wiped out from starvation. And you’ll be right back to square one. That’s what makes them so successful. And that’s why all five boroughs have rats. It builds its numbers up very quickly so long as there’s food.”