Photo Essay: The War on Rats in Claremont Village

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Ed Alvarez/Bronx Photo League

A rat crosses the path of a young girl biking near 1385 Washington Avenue.

The city and residents of Bronx public housing developments in Claremont Village are ramping-up efforts to eliminate a years-long rat infestation.

Exterminators filled rat holes in the public green-spaces and set poison. Neighbors have encouraged one another to pick up trash, and an additional exterminator and equipment have been promised by the New York City Housing Authority.

“We just need a few more exterminators,” said Barbara Holmes, president of the Morris Houses Tenants Association.

Morris Houses, part of Claremont Village, is home to roughly 10,000 people in the Butler, Morris I, Morris II and Morrisania public housing developments.

Claremont Village is affected by severe rat activity, scoring the maximum 3 out of 3 points, according to a fall 2016 study by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which inspected thousands of buildings across the city.

Before recent cleanup efforts this summer, residents say rats would run close by their shoes as they walked down the sidewalks. People were cautious about staying too long on a bench with food and a visit to a trash can tended to guarantee a rat sighting.

“They were walking around like they own the place,” Holmes said.

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The Rat Race

Anti-rat enforcement actions during the de Blasio administration
(Source: NYC OpenData)

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She’s convinced that trash thrown out of apartment windows and left in public spaces is one of the main reasons for the infestation. So Holmes has led an effort to get residents to pick up after themselves.

Now the rats that were a common sight have become harder to spot.

“New York is full of rats… They just keep them down,” Holmes said. “I think we can work it.”

The city’s public housing officials are seeking an additional exterminator to increase efforts at the Morrisania Houses and Webster Houses from two days a week to five. And buildings in Claremont Village will benefit from new trash compactors to be installed in 2018.

“We can – and will – do better to provide more frequent deep-treatments to the grounds and compactors in addition to the regular exterminations,” a NYCHA spokesperson said.

NYCHA did not immediately respond to questions on how long recent efforts will be sustained and why increased extermination efforts were not made sooner.

Meanwhile, tenants say the rats may be entering because of garbage along the Metropolitan Transit Authority Metro-North train tracks which cross through Claremont Village.

According to the city’s Health Department study, the majority of the Harlem line that runs through the public-housing developments scored between 1 and 2 out of the maximum 3 points in rat activity.

Another section of the train tracks along Claremont Village showed no signs of activity.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said garbage cleanups occur, but Metro-North does not have rodent control measures off to the sides of the tracks because it does not bring vermin through its services to the area.

Other New York City Housing Authority buildings in the Bronx will get a share of around $16 million from the city’s capital budget to replace dirt floors with rodent-deterring cement.

Many Claremont Village residents call the recent improvements a temporary fix in a losing citywide battle.

Jonathan Figueroa, 32, has lived in Morrisania Houses all his life and says throwing dirt on top of the rat holes will work until they find another way out.

He says politicians tend to show interest in the situation only around re-election time.

“It’s still the same,” Figueroa said. “We can not stop these rats.”

Ed Alvarez/Bronx Photo League

A rat runs across the entrance of 1385 Washington Avenue.

Ed Alvarez/Bronx Photo League

Neighborhood kids play near a rat poison sign posted on a tree. These warning signs are posted throughout Claremont.

Ed Alvarez/Bronx Photo League

A rat looking for food burrows into a garbage bag behind 450 Washington Avenue.

Ed Alvarez/Bronx Photo League

NYCHA resident, Ladata Alston, points to a sign she posted on her apartment door reminding guests to kick the door before opening. This method scares the rats and prevents them from possibly coming into the apartment.

Ed Alvarez/Bronx Photo League

Decaying rats behind 450 Washington Avenue.

Ed Alvarez/Bronx Photo League

Garbage placed in front of a sign that reads 'This area not for garbage disposal.'

Ed Alvarez/Bronx Photo League

A pack of rats looking for food by 1373 Washington Avenue.

Ed Alvarez/Bronx Photo League

A rat eats on top of a garbage bag near 1373 Washington Avenue.

Ed Alvarez/Bronx Photo League

Claremont resident Donna White points to a sign informing the community not to dump garbage in front of the building. The sign was made by the residents in the area.

Ed Alvarez/Bronx Photo League

Rat feces behind a bench in the playground of 1385 Washington Avenue.

This story was produced by the Bronx Photo League, a project of the Bronx Documentary Center, which was supported by the journalism non-profit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

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