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“Last year, the rats did little damage to my yard, but this year, they have been damaging my ornamental plants and vegetable garden.”

I have been a Winter Hill (just outside of Magoun Square) resident for the last 19 years, and while we’ve had an occasional bunny problem throughout our time here, we never had a rat problem of any note until recently. The problem was very much correlated with the restaurant shutdown in March 2020, and by late April or May, we noticed a few rats had taken shelter underneath our deck patio in our side yard. I figured that they had traveled the 6 blocks from the various restaurants in search of a new food source. We did have a baby bunny living under our deck that spring, but the rats chased it out of the yard. Soon, they had made a tunnel system in two of my neighbors’ yards, and those few rats turned into a double digit breeding colony.

I was unsure of my options, but a third neighbor set up a poison bait box, and soon my yard was filled with toxic corpses. The ones that died in the tunnel systems left the area smelling pretty horrible for the month of August, but at least the problem was gone for the year. Alas, new rats set up shop in spring of 2021, with a tunnel system in my yard and tunnel systems in those other neighbors’ yards. Some of the tunnels were easy to find, due to the dirt pile below, as they excavated and/or the holes were visible. Last year, the rats did little damage to my yard, but this year, they have been damaging my ornamental plants and vegetable garden. Thus, I have started with the less toxic for-predators rat poison (Rat-X) and will perhaps move on to something more toxic soon. I have heard that residents can call Somerville’s 311 line for assistance, but after I registered a complaint about Assembly Row, and they closed the case without comment, I have less confidence about their efficacy.

Besides having been a Somerville resident for the last 26 years, I also work as a bartender here in Somerville, now at Assembly Row. When I leave work at night, I notice all of the rats that come out, and I have been rather impressed at how large some of them have gotten there. The two restaurants that I have worked at in Assembly have both carted the trash into designated rooms that contained bins behind doors that stay closed and seem to be decently rat-proof. The problem that I saw was that some establishments were putting their trash out on the street in bins, and with whatever did not fit inside, they just put the bags next to it in boxes or on the ground.

One night recently, I passed by one of those bags, and there was a lot of noise. Several smaller rats scattered from inside the bags, but the two larger ones stayed, not wanting to leave the buffet that is seemingly provided to them nightly in the area. By the time I got my camera out, only one rat was still there. I sent the photo to 311 via Twitter with a message about the improper trash disposal and how Assembly has “turned into vermin city.” Somerville generated a service request that they closed a few hours later without comment. I have gotten long messages from them in the past about my inquiries in regards to recycling, road construction schedules, etc., but this time, it felt like they were not even acknowledging the problem or the citizen that raised a complaint.

Previous to the Assembly Row complaint, I did participate in the Somerville Live Wire’s survey on the rat problem, and some of my comments were mentioned in their segment (watchable on their YouTube channel). One of the guests touted the efficacy of 311 system for residents, but after my interactions with 311 about Assembly, I figure that I can get everything I need myself at Home Depot to combat this property infestation. With Assembly Row, I can always get a different job, but I have no plans on packing up and moving from the condo we bought in 2002. I would rather not go the toxic rat poison route, since it can harm birds of prey, dogs, and cats that get to them before the poison takes effect (also dogs are less picky and will pick up the dead ones as well). Our yard is fenced in but there is no control of where the rats end up dying. One of my neighbors with tunnel systems owns a pair of dogs, so I am torn about what to do in regards to their safety. Moreover, it is not obvious what the rats are feeding on, for all of my neighbors seem to use city-provided trash bins with covers.

With the election season upon us, I hear a lot of politicians saying that they will work on the rat problem with the same vagueness that they address other problems such as affordable housing. I am glad that they are addressing it as a sound bite, but none have given me confidence that they know what to do to address this issue. Have any of the mayoral or councilor candidates come up with a plan past name dropping the issue? The current solutions are sadly lagging a few steps behind this problem breeding in our city.

Frederic Yarm has lived in Somerville for the past 26 years.

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