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New York City Economy Tracker: August 21, 2023


The New York City Economy Tracker is a joint project between Investopedia and NY1, using publicly available data to evaluate the economic health of the city across a variety of metrics.

For the week of August 21, 2023, we’re looking at how rats continue to be a persistent problem for NYC neighborhoods and businesses, despite various initiatives by the mayor’s office.

Rats Might Still Run the City, At Least in NYC

It’s been four months since New York City’s mayor announced Kathleen Corradi, the city’s first-ever director of rodent mitigation, colloquially known as the ‘rat czar’—but the city’s rodent problem is still affecting the lives and businesses of New Yorkers

The appointment was the latest in a series of policy directives and investments Mayor Adams rolled out aimed at curbing the spread and density of NYC’s notorious rat population. Although rodent-related 311 requests are down this August compared to their peak in August 2022, rat-related 311 calls are still over 26% higher than August 2019.

Rodent Inspection Failure Rates Clustered in Queens

Some of the worst of NYC’s rat problem has clustered in a handful of neighborhoods in Queens. Since 2021, over 50% of residential buildings, businesses, and abandoned lots inspected by NYC’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Elmhurst, South Corona, Sunnyside, and Woodside failed their inspections due to rodent activity.

The Mayor’s office has set up ‘Rat Mitigation Zones’ in neighborhoods across the city to identify areas with high levels of rodent activity and focus city resources to address rats and the conditions that make the problem worse. These zones bring together the NYC Health Department, Department of Parks and Recreation, Sanitation, Education, and Housing Authority to get rid of the food, water, and habitat that help rats thrive. But no such zone has been set up in Queens yet.

However, the Adams administration has already pledged $3.5 million to the Harlem mitigation zone, as well as $14.5 million to a “Get Stuff Clean” initiative that aims to clean up neglected lots across the city. Part of the initiative is to increase litter basket service, expand camera enforcement against illegal dumping, and bring on additional rat exterminators.

Restaurants in Lower Manhattan Had Highest Rat-Related Health Violation Rates

Restaurants and other food-related businesses have long been a major factor in the city’s efforts to mitigate the rat problem. On August 1st, the Mayor’s office and the NYC Department of Sanitation announced regulations that require all food-related businesses in NYC to use rigid containers and secure lids for outdoor trash cans as another way to deter rats.

Rats not only lower New Yorkers’ quality of life, but also help slow economic growth, especially for restaurants in the city. As health inspection data from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows, neighborhoods in lower Manhattan, especially in the Midtown business district, Greenwich Village, Soho, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen—which contain some of the most iconic and well-frequented restaurants in the city—also have the highest per capita rate of rodent-related health violations. 

As the city continues to lag behind pre-pandemic levels of diners, reducing rodent volume and spread in lower Manhattan and throughout the city will be integral to the economic recovery of the restaurant scene.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.