It’s no secret that DC has a rat problem. The District has issued a Rat Population Increase Notice, and Mayor Bowser recently led a "Rat Walk" to discuss concerns. In 2017, DC residents reported rat encounters at a rate approximately four times higher than in recent years.
This summer, my husband and I were finally able to secure rat abatement in the yard of one of our neighbors. My first request on this issue was made to Charles Allen in late 2015, and it went unanswered. It ended up taking nearly two years working with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and the Department of Health (DOH) to finally receive rat abatement services, despite the obvious and serious health risks the situation posed on a daily basis to children and pets in our immediate neighborhood.
In light of the rate at which this problem has increased, it is clear that we need more vigorous inspection by the city, and enforcement of the laws some restaurants are not adhering to. The DOH remains woefully understaffed, and plans for expansion of the staff have been deferred to 2018.
Ward 6 has been hit particularly hard. Our Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) has identified six locations: Eastern Market, Barracks Row, the 100 block of D Street, and three stretches of Pennsylvania Avenue, as hot-spots. Each of these areas has a high concentration of restaurants, and therefore trash. The ANC has worked hard to push new trash storage and disposal requirements on local businesses, and they have had some success in doing so.
Building on the success of agreements negotiated by the ANC, the laws governing business operations should be strengthened to ensure best practices by all operators. Ward 6 businesses are important members of our community, but it is also reasonable for us to ask each of them to be good neighbors, particularly since an increase in the rat population poses serious health issues and impacts quality of life for neighborhood residents.
Ward 6 is forced to compete with the rest of DC for scarce inspection and enforcement resources, but we should be pushing for a more substantive city response, commensurate with our problem. Ward 6 leadership could make an effort to proactively advise residents seeking to use the District’s confusing "Rodent Petition" program to get inspections and treatments.
Around Eastern Market, demolition of the Hine School dispersed a huge population of rats to neighboring streets and alleys. The developer agreed to abatement measures, but that commitment was not adequately monitored and has now expired while the rats have not. The developer should be required to reimpose and expand the previous rat abatement measures. The same should be true for ongoing issues in the neighborhoods surrounding the Wharf development.
This problem has been ignored in part because our council member takes substantial money from restaurant owners and developer executives who work in our Ward but do not live here.. He has a financial incentive not to act, so the best he has been willing to do is say he would "take a crack" at it. But the problem has only gotten worse under his leadership, as nearly every Ward 6 resident can attest.
We can all agree that the extent to which our council member cares about the rats in our backyards should not be determined by people who live in McLean and Bethesda, so the solution is simple: we need leadership that isn’t funded by business owners and developer executives, and is thus willing to take them on when it’s for the good of our community.