NYC launches $32 million plan to reduce rat population

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NEW YORK — New York City announced a $32 million, multi-agency plan on Wednesday to reduce its rat population.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the plan will target rats in the Grand Concourse area of the Bronx; Chinatown, the East Village and the Lower East Side in Manhattan; and the Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant areas of Brooklyn.

“Simply exterminating rats wasn't enough. It's good. It's been helpful. But as we really looked at the facts it’s basically like bailing out a leaky boat.  It would just come back we were not as a city solving the problem,” said Mayor de Blasio.

By September, the city will start installing solar compactors with rat-resistant openings and replacing wire waste baskets with steel cans. When garbage reaches a certain level, the trash will be compacted inside.

Each new bin costs $7,000.

Colonies of feral cats are also helpful. Through a process of trapping, neutering and release, the cats are cared for and they help control the rat population. Neighbors across the city work with local groups, including the Guardian Angels, which started an Animal Protection Unit.

Those volunteers say they've been working with other cities and look forward to working with neighbors and officials in New York.

There will also be more frequent trash pick ups. The Department of Sanitation will lead the effort to combat this infestation but multiple agencies including the Department of Health, NYCHA and Housing Preservation and Development will also be doing their part.

“This has to be a collective effort and I know we can get it done,” said NYC Councilmember Margaret Chin.

The city also plans to cement basement floors in public housing. Proposed legislation would regulate the hours garbage could be left at the curb, and increase fines for illegal dumping.

In February, health officials said one person had died and two others were severely sickened in a Bronx neighborhood due to a rare disease transmitted by rats.

The city's rat battle is far from new. Experts say it's impossible to accurately estimate the number, though they say efforts in recent years have greatly reduced "active rat signs."

In 2014, a Columbia University doctoral student using statistical analysis estimated the number of rats in the city at 2 million, claiming to debunk a popular theory that there is one rat for each of the city's 8½ million people.

That year, the Health Department piloted a "Rat Reservoir" program in six sites in Manhattan and the Bronx, targeting colonies and conditions conducive to rats in sidewalks, catch basins, tree pits and parks, in addition to buildings. In 2015, funding for the program was increased by $2.9 million.

"While New York City has made important strides to curb the rodent population, it's clear more needs to be done to significantly and permanently reduce the scourge of rats across the five boroughs," City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said.