City Council hearing focused on ‘rat action plan’ for NYCHA

by Abdulhaqq Obisesan Oladimeji

City Council members has questioned agency officials in a hearing Tuesday that centered on NYCHA’s efforts to overcome years of entrenched rodent infestations and complaints over poor waste collection, as well as several bills that would beef up city rat mitigation rules.

The hearing comes as complaints of rat sightings are on the rise across the city, and as the public housing authority transitions a large chunk of its stock to day-to-day management by private firms.

“As NYCHA moves to private management, the lines of accountability have become even more unclear than they were in the past,” said Councilwoman Sandy Nurse, who co-chaired the hearing as head of the committee on sanitation.

In testimony, NYCHA officials largely agreed that trash storage and collection at most of the authority’s developments have long been substandard, but said that their anti-rodent efforts led to complaints directly to the authority being halved this year, from about 4,000 to 2,000 each month, compared to 2019.

“Any rat is a bad rat,” said Keith Grossman’s NYCHA’s vice president for operations and support services. “But we are making some progress.”

Rat populations are down 48% at the dozens of developments that are part of the Neighborhood Rodent Reduction initiative, launched 2017, Josey Bartlett, the authority’s deputy director of pest control, said at the hearing.

The authority employs 31 full-time rodent exterminators, including a team that focuses on collapsing underground rat burrows in the areas around housing towers.

“The rats make 80 babies in a year,” Bartlett said. “So if we can slow that down, it makes it better.”

Yet several council members said that the pace of improvement was not good enough. Members pointed to a planned effort to pour new cement “rat slabs” in the basement of 50 residential buildings, to prevent rats from tunneling in through the ground. A 2019 agreement with the federal government gave NYCHA until the end of 2020 to complete all 50 slabs, though agency officials said they have only finished 27 so far, with the remaining slabs to be poured this year.

“For many years, we’ve seen things happen at NYCHA that would not be allowed to happen elsewhere,” Councilman Erik Bottcher said at the hearing. “I like some of what I’m hearing. But it’s time for NYCHA to be held to a higher standard”

The slate of bills included in the hearing’s agenda included proposals to require the city health department to issue annual reports on rat mitigation efforts; mandate the use of rat-proof materials for bins storing trash outdoors; and require buildings in designated rat mitigation zones to only put trash out for collection during a short window in the morning.

Agency officials said they supported the intent of the reporting bill, and had yet to fully review the remaining legislation.

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