By Jill Colvin
Special to DNAinfo
LOWER EAST SIDE — A decade after former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani vowed to clean up the vermin at Manhattan’s largest public housing development, residents say it is once again being overrun by fearless, cat-sized rats.
“I’m terrified,” said Maria Felix, 63, who has lived at the Baruch Houses for 30 years. “You look out the window and you can see them out there. They’re everywhere.”
The New York City Housing Authority, which oversees pest control at Baruch, said it has received 112 rat-related work orders for the complex since June 2009 — an increase from previous years. About half, they said, came from resident complaints.
NYCHA said it is monitoring the situation and regularly exterminates rats at the site. As recently as last week, workers returned to look for rodents and set more poison traps.
But as the sun set on the Lower East Side last Wednesday, dozens of rats with beady eyes and spindly tails emerged from a maze of burrows, which residents have nicknamed the "Rat Hotel." By nightfall, rodents were a common sight, darting across pathways, scurrying through bushes and rummaging through scattered trash.
“It’s really, really bad down here,” said resident Arrika Mitchell, 21. “You can’t go outside without worrying a rat is going to run up your leg. There are so many rats.”
Back in 2000, Giuliani announced a task force to attack the city's rodent population in the wake of a large infestation at Baruch.
Life-long resident Fernando Riollano, 59, said he’s never seen the rats so bad.
“God forbid someone gets bitten by one of those,” he said, shaking his head. “Kids don’t know better.”
“It’s a health hazard,” his wife, Valerie, 51, agreed. She worries one day the rats will turn on her Shih Tzu, Sandy.
“They’ll eat you!” she warned the dog.
Most residents blame the rats' return on litter and abandoned trash bags that are common throughout the complex. But NYCHA said it believes the problem was caused by recent water and steam main replacement work, which made rodents “more active and visible,” NYCHA spokeswoman Heidi Morales said in an e-mail to DNAinfo.
Now that the work is complete, NYCHA said it expects complaints to drop.
But residents are skeptical.
"I guess they’re doing what they can with what they’ve got," Valerie Riollano said. “But obviously it’s not working. They’re breeding instead of dying.”