Weeks after moving into Douglass Houses in the Upper West Side, a woman walked through the living room to the bathroom said ran right back to bed when a rat sauntered across the room in front of her.
She and her husband shuffled between shelters for years as they waited for to be placed by New York City Housing Authority into a new home. They didn’t think the new home would come with rats for roommates.
“They walk in here like they own the place,” the husband told Metro.
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They live just outside of one neighborhood targeted by the city's Department of Health as a "rat reservoir." Even if they were inside the designated area, public housing at large is not included in the pilot program.
As a result, the couple — like some of their fellow residents in Douglass who let a Metro reporter into their homes and declined to have their names published — have been forced to take the rodent problem into their own hands while they wait for NYCHA to step up.
The couple moved into a street-facing unit late last year only to find gaping holes that rats and mice used to enter the apartment.
Aside from the general disrepair of broken windows and busted refrigerators, the husband said they were met with at least one dead rodent in a bloody bathtub the day they moved in.
They plugged whatever cracks they could themselves out of pocket, using foam instead of cement to seal the holes. Hot air circulated through all the apartments. They were afraid of opening windows only to allow more rats inside.
An elderly woman across the hall has been living in her apartment for more than 15 years and said she is now spending $300 to $400 a month of her own limited income on cleaning supplies to keep the rats at bay. Giant glue traps were under every table and in every corner in her hallway, kitchen and bedroom.
"I can't sleep at night," she said in Spanish. She said she was told it would be two weeks before anyone could come to her apartment.
At least one resident said she also reached out to the Health Department after she began to feel faint and started passing out once she moved in.
All the residents Metro spoke with said they put in calls to NYCHA multiple times, and that any attempts to address their issues have either been done in piecemeal after weeks-long waiting times or not at all.
Officials from both agencies told Metro they coordinate efforts on some rat-related programs, and that a NYCHA rep sits on the Health Department's rodent task force. However, NYCHAtold Metro they did not know why public housing was not included in the rat reservoir program.
Officials told Metro residents have already been asked to keep their homes clean and that all trash be disposed of properly. But Douglass residents told Metro they keep their apartments clean, with one home smelling of bleach as soon as the front door opened.
The rat problem at Douglass has been so pervasive that local lawmakers have done multiple walkthroughs on the grounds for years.
Most recently, City Councilman Mark Levine and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer went to Douglass in September 2014 with both NYCHA and the Health Department. NYCHA adopted some recommendations, such as repairing wire mesh screens, but the chronic rat problem has not abated.
Levine's and Brewer's committed to sending a list of new recommendations to NYCHA, including providing more garbage cans with lids, scheduling a meeting with the nearby high school to discuss their maintenance, putting out more bait boxes, and warning tenants about how to put out their trash.
“We’ve been doing that,” Quinones said. “So what are we supposed to do now?”