Rats plague seniors in Betances Houses

Betances Houses residents are tired of sharing their building with live --and dead-- rats.

Tenants complain that they live in ‘The stinkiest building in New York” and say the Housing Authority makes things worse

By Lindsay Lazarski
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For months, residents of the Betances Houses building set aside for senior citizens heard the sound of claws scratching as rats scurried back and forth in the crawl space overhead at night.

Rat urine stained the ceiling. The animals gnawed holes in it, then tumbled through them onto the floor. They darted into the radiator vent beneath the mailboxes in the lobby.

Inside the walls of the building, which is across the street from St. Mary’s Park, the rodents climbed to the second story roof where they feasted on chicken bones, take-out containers and potato chip wrappers thrown from windows.

Finally, in response to complaints, an exterminator arrived. But when he planted poison, the rats died by the dozens inside the walls, and their decaying bodies began to stink.

Residents covered their noses and mouths with their hands, while they waited for the elevator, hoping to ease the suffocating stench of the decomposing rat carcasses.

“This should be the best kept building in New York. Instead it’s the stinkiest!” said Ernest McNeill, shaking his head.

McNeill, a retired mailman who has lived in the building for eight years, said the rats behaved as if they were tenants, walking around, and crossing the street.

“They looked like puppies, like little Chihuahuas,” chimed in Herman Escabi, another tenant.

Segundo E. Delgado, another resident, said, “They’re big rats, like cats,” as he held out his hands to measure an imaginary rat for effect.

The New York City Housing Authority, which owns and operates the 12-story, 88-unit building, reserved for seniors 62 years old and older, openly acknowledges the infestation and the nauseating smell that followed the dispatch of the exterminator.

“No one should be subjected to that,” said NYCHA spokesman Howard Marder of the odor.

NYCHA has since removed the panels of the dropped ceiling and is in the process of sanitizing the space and replacing the ceiling. “It will be done expeditiously,” Marder promised.

But residents say the horrendous smell from the lobby is all too familiar.

McNeill, who has burned cocoa-mango incense to try to mask the smell in the lobby, remembers the foul odor beginning about two years ago.

He is hopeful that NYCHA has taken steps to clean the entryway, but wants to see more improvements made to the front of the building.

“All they did was clean that one room,” said McNeill, referring to the lobby. “It still looks like you’re going into a jailhouse. And it stinks,” he added, as he pointed to a locked room next to the lobby with the word “incinerator” in bold white letters.

McNeill said he doesn’t like to invite guests, or even his own children, over, because of the condition of the building. The whole front entryway should be renovated, he says. Instead of the prison-like iron grates that cover the doors and windows, he proposes glass, which would allow residents coming in to see the lobby and be sure that it’s safe.

The senior building has been nicknamed “Calvary,” after Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, explained McNeill.

“Calvary is where they put you on your death bed. When they can’t do nothing else for you. When your insurance runs out and the city is going to bury you,” said McNeill, who disapproves of the name and expects a better living environment.

Maria Canales, director of the Betances Senior Center located next-door to the senior building, said the center also has a problem with rats. She said exterminators come, patch holes in the building, and cover the radiators, but she still sees the rodents.

“I want the seniors to have a clean, sanitary, safe, place to live and socialize,” said Canales. “They worked hard their whole lives and they deserve the best and that is what we are trying to do here.”

Canales explained that part of problem is people who litter or who throw food from the windows to feed the pigeons. Pieces of bread, orange peel, and juice bottles landing on the roof of the senior center attract and nourish the rats.

“We all need to work together,” said Canales.

Dominga DeJesus lives on the second floor of the senior building. She said she could not open her windows because of the rats roaming on the senior center roof near her windows at night.

The senior center’s custodian, Tony Rodriguez, said there is nothing more that can be done.

“Rats have been here for the last hundred years, and they are still going to be here,” said Rodriguez.   “As long as people are here, rats are still going to be around.”