Rats, mice, and other pests are creating health and safety problems across the city, according to a number of residents who addressed the City Council Monday night.
The Chelsea non-profit La Colaborativa helped organize the nearly dozen speakers who asked the council for help battling the rodents and less than receptive landlords. More residents supported them from the council chambers, many toting signs and one or two wearing rubber rat masks.
“We are here with you to share some major concerns we have in our community,” said Norieliz DeJesus, director of policy and organizing at La Colaborativa.
DeJesus said the city has put measures in place to address the mice and rats and the city, and praised the inspectional services department for doing what it can, but she said it’s not enough to fix the serious problems faced by many residents.
“We have hundreds of cases in our office on a weekly basis, but the overflowing cases of rats, mold, mildew, leaking gas stoves, leaking sewer pipes, broken windows, that exists among all these other issues in our city,” she said. “The fact that I have families coming in to make sure they are up to date with the rent, up to date with their utilities, and making sure all of their needs as far as financial stability are there, but still go home to the realities of having to sleep among rats and mice and roaches, and having no heat and hot water, this is unacceptable and inhumane.”
A number of residents spoke about living among rats and mice getting into their homes where small children live, only to have landlords ignore their concerns or only address them with the least effort possible. Several said that their children have gotten sick due to rodent feces in their apartments, and one woman said her dog had to be put down after it was attacked by rats while out on a walk.
“These uninhabitable conditions are what we see in our office on a weekly basis,” said DeJesus. “These uninhabitable conditions do not discriminate against age. You have children with bed bug bites and children being bitten by mice inside their units.”
DeJesus said the rodent problem is a citywide crisis affecting the health of the community.
While DeJesus said the rodent and pest issues are major issues in the city, she also noted that the problem should not be separated from the other housing problems in the city, such as displacement and skyrocketing rents.
“We are all being affected by the many changes in our communities, not just with a rat infestation, mouse infestation, and all kinds of insects in our apartments and unlivable living conditions, but we also have no rent control whatsoever,” said Michelle Diaz of the Praying Together as One Community Ministry. “Landlords are coming in, buying up thousands of properties around the way, and they are hiking rent prices that our families cannot afford coming out of this Covid pandemic.”
As for the rat problem, Diaz said she lives on Pearl Street, and can see a nearby restaurant where rats are drawn by the trash and dumpsters.
“It does not matter how much we do our part to keep that area clean, the rats are coming up through the cemented, cracked foundation. The landlords are aware, we have made city reports, we’ve made phone calls, I have text messages, and they just disregard it either because we are just minority Hispanic, or we are not paying what they value the equity of the rent.”
She said her 10-year-old son has been sick for the last three months from the fecal matter from mice. She also said her balcony is infested with rats and that her children are afraid to go outside.
La Colaborativa Executive Director Gladys Vega said the rodent problems are among the biggest problems she is being made aware of by residents her organization helps.
“We are not underestimating all the other issues we have as far as the high cost of rent, it’s just that these are real problems they are facing,” said Vega. “They are constantly talking to us about it. They know about the programs that Chelsea City Hall has, they just feel that not much happens when they talk to the landlords.
“The landlords are very good about asking for the rent, but they ignore the needs and the housing code violations.”