One issue our campaign hears about consistently from voters across the city is the rat problem. Norway rats are a national and regional problem, and the recent combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread construction in our city has seen this go from something that primarily impacted the east side of the city to a city-wide problem.
In the past year, I’ve found myself dealing with rats outside my home in Winter Hill for the first time in my 17-plus years here in Somerville. I understand what people are going through, and I will prioritize the fight against rats if elected to City Council. I’ve publicly stated my desire to serve on the Rodent Issues Special Committee and I will use the Councilor-At-Large position to work to solve our city-wide rat problem.
We’ve seen progress in the past in The War on Rats, but momentum is headed in the wrong direction right now. Increasingly, we hear the many stories of people who no longer use their yards in the evening due to large numbers of rodents and dog owners afraid to walk their dogs after dark because of run-ins with aggressive rats. It’s clear that major changes are needed to the current approach to rat control and I want to see Somerville declare all-out war on rats.
The approach to date by the City of Somerville has largely treated rats on private property as individual infestations individually affecting those property and business owners, rather than the neighborhood problems that they are. The reality is that if one property owner eradicates the rats on their property, they’re likely to temporarily relocate to a nearby property and eventually return.
Poison is dangerous to humans and other animals, who might ingest it or eat a rat with poison in its system. Dry ice has been shown to deal effectively with rat infestations and I want to see Somerville make it easier for property and business owners — and tenants — to acquire the materials for this. But eradicating individual infestations is really just treating the symptoms and not dealing with the root cause of the issue.
Based on results elsewhere, hormonal rat contraceptives are proving effective in slowing the rate of reproduction in rats and reducing the number of these pests. Somerville explored a pilot of this program in the past, and I support rolling out a program of hormonal rodent birth control to the entire city and funding it at the level required for effective implementation.
Changing human behavior also is a key component of turning the tide in this battle. We need to educate residents and business owners and work with them to reduce the food supply and friendly breeding spots for rats in this city. The city should be quickly and proactively replacing garbage receptacles that have been compromised, increasing trash collection frequency where appropriate, and working to eliminate the inappropriate storage and disposal of the things rats feed on. Our public spaces can lead the way by replacing traditional trash receptacles in parks and on sidewalks with modern rodent-proof receptacles that are emptied frequently by the city.
If properly implemented, a city-wide public composting program also could help with this by reducing the amount of food waste in our trash bins and out on our sidewalks on trash days. Cambridge recently expanded their curbside composting service to all Cambridge residents with public trash collection, and I’d like to see Somerville follow suit with a no-cost residential curbside composting service.
Finally, Somerville needs to staff appropriately for the problem. Currently there is one Inspectional Services Department position whose (multiple) duties include dealing with rodent issues — and that position has been vacant since the summer and remains unfilled. I want to see the departmental budget increased to include multiple full-time positions dedicated to rodent issues, including a Rat Czar. And these employees should be proactively reaching out to residents and businesses in areas with known rodent issues to aggressively combat the issue.
If we do all these things — eradicate rat infestations, implement hormonal rat birth control, educate and change human behavior, improve food waste disposal and collection, and staff and fund within the administration appropriately — I firmly believe we can turn the tide and win this war on rats in Somerville.