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Trash Feeds Rats After NYCHA Fails to Fix Broken Garbage Compactor

By Emily Frost | April 10, 2015 10:07am | Updated on April 13, 2015 9:01am
 Residents have had to leave their trash outside while the trash compactor in the basement is broken, they said. 
Trash Strewn Around NYCHA's Douglass Houses Encourages Rats
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The trash compactor at an Upper West Side NYCHA building has been broken for two months, forcing residents to dump their garbage into a vermin-attracting heap in front of the building, they said. 

At the same building, within the Frederick Douglass Houses development, hot water has been either completely out or intermittent since March, residents said. 

The roughly 180 residents in the 20-story building at 875 Columbus Ave. have been piling their garbage in front of the building ever since the trash compactor broke on Feb. 12, said Idalise Santiago, 51, a 20-year building resident. 

When it was working, the compactor flattened residents' trash to be hauled away twice a week. Now, a NYCHA truck comes to the building every morning, but it can barely keep up with the volume of refuse generated by the large building, photos show. 

Dozens of trash bags and overflowing garbage, including dirty paper towels, leftover food, egg cartons and ramen noodle packets, were seen piled in front of the building on a recent visit.

"It’s an eyesore and it's unsanitary," said Santiago, who lives with her son in the building. 

But most importantly, it's feeding the thriving rat infestation on the premises, she said.

Trash is picked up around 10 or 11 a.m. each day but, by the time she gets home from work around 6 p.m., Santiago sees there's a fresh pile of garbage bags that rats can chew right through, as well as half-empty food containers, she said.

"These are huge rats...they're not scared of us," she said. 

Residents at Frederick Douglass Houses, which run between West 100th and 104th streets and Amsterdam and Manhattan avenues, have repeatedly asked for help in combating the rat infestations they regularly encounter. 

Last April, a NYCHA administrator criticized Douglass Houses' supervisor for not patrolling the grounds more and making sure trash is not overflowing. 

"The rats have taken over Douglass [Houses]," resident Tawana Jackson said at the time. 

Other residents expressed embarrassment about the situation to city officials who gathered at a meeting to discuss the problem. 

Removing rats' food sources is essential to stopping an infestation, according to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's rat expert Caroline Bragdon. Rats can survive on as little as food grease, she said. 

For Santiago, it bothers her that residents must jump over rats as they walk to the building's front door and because passersby see the pileup and judge the residents. 

"This is a long-lasting impression that we’re leaving on tourists: that this is how dirty and filthy New York is," she said. 

City Councilman Mark Levine, whose district includes Douglass Houses, said he's working to resolve the issue.

"No one should live with the indignity of trash strewn about at their place of residence," he said. 

Meanwhile, a pipe burst on March 15 and residents lost hot water for 12 days, Santiago said. It's now back on, but Santiago said she sometimes has to run her shower for three to five minutes before it gets warm.

Her neighbor isn't getting hot water in her kitchen, she said. 

"This is just the latest indication of the chronic underfunding of NYCHA forcing residents to live in unacceptable conditions," Levine said. His office is also aware of the hot water issue and is working on resolving it, he said. 

NYCHA did not respond to a request for comment. 

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