Several members of the Somerville Board of Aldermen vented anger about the rat problem in parts of the city, and they put the blame at the feet of absentee landlords. The city's Inspectional Services Division was also a target of their frustration.
Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston sparked the string of angry statements with an order that the Inspectional Services Division deal with a "greatly increased rodent infestation" around .
"The neighbors have actually sort of got their own neighborhood watch group going. Imagine a neighborhood watch group for rodents rather than criminals," Heuston said.
The alderman said she put together a "detailed plan" about what she wants from Inspectional Services, implying the division's response over the past few years hasn't dealt with the problem adequately.
"I don't need another daytime job … but if I need to ask the city to pay me as a consultant to advise this department on how to approach an infestation where several people have said to me they're thinking of putting their houses on the market, long term residents, because they can no longer live there, their grandchildren cannot play in the back yard, if I have to do that, I will," she said.
"The crux of this problem and the base of this problem has to do with absentee landlords who are ignoring their property," Heuston said.
Alderman At-Large William White, who chairs the Board of Aldermen's Public Health and Public Safety Committee, said he was going to invite department heads to an upcoming meeting, and "I want an action plan prepared ahead of time."
Ward 4 Alderman Tony Lafuente said of the rat problem, "I think this is singly probably one of the worst things we have in the city."
He talked of an absentee landlord next to his house whose property has "nine holes in the ground. Now, he's happy in New Hampshire, but we've got to deal with it. I've had two rats going down my driveway in the last two days, and they're coming from those holes."
Alderman At-Large John Connolly said, "I don't think any of us have been satisfied with any of the attempts at this particular time to deal with this issue."
"This is much larger than just Inspectional Services. This is a public health hazard," he said.
He, too, placed blame at the feet of absentee landlords, saying, "The absentee landlord issue is ever becoming a bigger, bigger problem"
If people walk around his neighborhood, "Anyone would notice the condition of the homes that aren't owner occupied," Connolly said.
He added, "This is a major threat to our public health, it must be dealt with with all hands on deck."