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NYCHA Blames Own Staff for Rat Scourge at Frederick Douglass Houses

By Emily Frost | August 13, 2014 7:41am
 A staffer said the Super at the complex was not doing enough to combat the rat crisis. 
Rats at Frederick Douglass Houses
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A public housing official blamed the agency's own staff for creating an out-of-control rat problem at the Frederick Douglass Houses by not dealing with overflowing trash at the complex.

A staffer for the NYCHA-owned buildings between West 100th and 104th streets and Amsterdam and Manhattan avenues told residents Monday that employees are failing to handle the garbage properly, giving the rodents an endless supply of food. 

"The supervisor needs to get out there more often," acknowledged Denise Torres, a technical resource advisor for NYCHA, at a meeting Monday that included tenants and a half-dozen officials from city agencies.

"Just tonight I saw so much trash out. He’s supposed to address the issue twice a week."

Torres did not say whether the supervisor neglected any particular duties, but did criticize him for inaction when it came to cleaning up garbage scattered across the properties and overflowing from trash cans.

"The super has to get out of his office. He has to walk around," she said. "There are bait stations out. But who wants to eat at the bait station when [the rats] have all the garbage?"

The complex's supervisor, Joe Militano, was not at the meeting to defend himself and did not respond to requests for comment.

Residents also complained at the meeting of trash cans left overflowing for days before they were emptied and a widespread lack of garbage bins near where people sit outside to eat. Without adequate cans, people just throw their food on the ground, tenants said.

"The rats have taken over Douglass [Houses]," resident Tawana Jackson said at the meeting, urging representatives from the Department of Sanitation, Department of Health and NYCHA not to continue ignoring residents' concerns.

"This is where we live. Yesterday, I had to jump over a huge rat. I’m scared to walk to my house at night."

Madelyn Innocent, pro tempore president of the Douglass Houses tenants association, said she's seen heaping piles of bagged garbage that go days before getting picked up, contributing to a situation in which "rats run rampant."

"It’s a huge problem. Huge, huge, huge," she said. "[The rats] run across your feet."

The NYCHA employee, Torres, did not address the piles of bags, which the Department of Sanitation is responsible for picking up.

The department picks up trash twice a week, and "when larger volumes of refuse are generated by the housing development, the maintenance staff contacts the department requesting additional collection service," a Sanitation spokesman said.

Both City Councilman Mark Levine and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer made a commitment Monday to walk around Douglass Houses to take in the full extent of the issue. They said getting the garbage problem under control was a key part of combating the infestation. 

"We’re going to need a multi-pronged attack," Levine said. "It might include more trash cans." 

The trash and rats are "embarrassing" but, worse, they make the kids who grow up there feel forgotten, Innocent added.

"The kids say, 'They don’t care about us,'" she said.