Rat sightings across Big Apple have reportedly increased 60 percent since city officials slashed the Department of Sanitation’s budget by more than $100 million two months ago.
The troubling spike in rodent encounters has been attributed to a recent change in procedure spurred by the budget cut in June that reduced trash collections in New York City from daily to just three days per week.
Less than 1,000 rat sightings were reported in the city in April, but after the collection change was implemented that number ballooned to 1,650 in June – and city officials say the infestation is getting worse by the week.
A number of politicians gathered in Harlem on Tuesday to pressure the city’s government to reverse course. New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said the current policy has created a ‘welcome mat for the rats of our city’.
‘These rats have the run of New York City,’ Stringer continued about the infestation. ‘These rats are walking around waiting for a table at outdoor seating.’
Over the last few weeks, photos of the city street have captured bags filled with leftover food scraps, cans and bottles piled high on sidewalks or overflowing out of corner litter baskets.
With the increase in trash, rat sightings have ballooned, and Singer says the growing infestation is having a profound effect on local restaurants and tourism – two industries already reeling from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
With the city still working to stem the spread of COVID-19, restaurants have been permitted to offer patrons outdoor dining, while indoor dining is still currently prohibited.
However, Stringer says the piles of trash on the street are deterring potential customers while simultaneously attracting rats and other vermin which, ‘spread disease while out city is in the midst of a deadly pandemic.’
‘I’ve seen them walking upright. They come up to me and say, ‘Good morning Mr. Comptroller,’ Stringer added in jest. ‘They have become part of the fabric of this city because city government has failed to get trash and sanitation under control.’
The Comptroller called the piles of waste mounted up on the sidewalks more than just a sanitation issue or an eyesore. He said they’re a symptom of health and economic issues and can even contribute to more litter, crime and disrespect for neighborhoods.
‘I say to the mayor today: Wake up. Get out here and see what’s going on,’ he said. ‘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.’
New York Sen. Brian Benjamin echoed Stringer’s sentiments, adding that a lack of sanitation is tied to negligence from government and a decline in quality of life.
‘It’s bigger than trash. It’s the visible manifestation of lack of interest, of lack of resources,’ Benjamin said. ‘It’s all interrelated.’
Congressman Adriano Espaillat added that the piles of trash set a bad example for the rest of the community.
‘When you see a lot of garbage in the street, you almost think you can do just about anything and get away with it,’ he said.
Espaillat also made reference to the viral video sensation ‘Pizza Rat’, who was filmed in 2015 traversing a subway station with an entire slice of pizza in-tow.
‘Now, this is like rat city because of too much garbage in the street,’ he added.
Giacomo Romano, owner of Ciccio, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan told NBC New York last month that rats from a nearby park have been appearing at his restaurant.
‘Last night, a customer had a baby rat running on his shoe and I let you just imagine his reaction,’ he said.
As a temporary solution, the politicians are asking City Hall to allow business owners to put their own trash bins in front of their stores without facing fines, in addition to using sealed bins for garbage collections days to reduce vermin, and find ways to combat rats following the introduction of outdoor dining.
However, a Sanitation Department spokesperson said the city can’t solve the problems alone.
‘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,’ the department spokesperson told the NY Post.
‘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.’