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A year later, did extermination campaign solve rat problem at Baltimore's public housing complexes?

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City says after a year of aggressively going after vermin in its public housing complexes, the rat population is down 82 percent and hundreds of citations have been issued in the surrounding neighborhoods to help combat the pests.

At the Perkins Homes complex in East Baltimore, however, residents Tonya Jackson and James Morton scoffed at the reported success.

“We have very bad problems,” said Jackson, 47, who has lived at Perkins for 12 years. “They reduced nothing.”

Morton, 55, a resident of six years, added, “Mice in the homes, rats outside.”

Janet Abrahams, who runs the housing authority, said pests are the No. 1 complaint she hears from residents. She knows it will take time — and more results — to prove to them the problem is under control.

“The most we can do is be transparent and communicate with them,” Abrahams said. “The residents all have this image of the housing authority. Our goal is to change the image, and if we say we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it.

“The only way we can prove to the skeptics is to perform the services and report out the results to them. But we cannot do it by ourselves. We need the residents to help us.”

The $300,000 campaign that will continue through at least the summer has eliminated more than 1,500 rat burrows at 22 complexes, Abrahams said.

Exterminators are working to attack the other 18 percent of the rat population by destroying 330 stubborn, remaining burrows in the coming months and continue to treat new ones that pop up. A private contractor will continue to provide quarterly rodent and cockroach treatment. Also, the city’s Rat Rubout crews are inspecting the complexes three times a year.

Abrahams said the program, officially called Healthy Elimination of All Pests Longterm, or HEAL, is about more than an extermination schedule.

Officials are working to sign families up for a city health department program that helps residents understand and address the ways disease-infested rats, mice and cockroaches trigger asthma attacks. Enrollment of families living in public housing has tripled since HEAL launched, Abrahams said.

Code enforcement officers have issued more than 1,400 citations for trash and rodents coming from homes and businesses adjacent to the authority’s developments. And maintenance staff at the complexes are attending to 2,800 work orders for sanitation issues and pest control, Abrahams said.

Abrahams said to address another challenge, the housing authority is including a clause in new and renewing leases that requires tenants to accommodate exterminators. People often refused service from pest control contractors in the past, contributing to infestations, she said.

Pest infestations have been widespread at the public housing developments.

Critics say before the HEAL campaign, the complexes appeared to have no regular extermination. Housing authority officials said in the past, roach extermination was done on a 60- to 90-day cycle. Rats and mice infestations were treated in response to tenant and staff complaints. Several years ago, the housing authority conducted a one-time rat abatement at several complexes.

Meghan Perkins, 30, said that in the last year, exterminators regularly visited her family’s Perkins Homes apartment and she’s noticed the rat burrows outside being covered up. Despite the efforts, she said vermin are still a problem for her.

In the five years Perkins has lived at the complex, she said she has worked hard to keep her apartment clean, scrubbed her front porch and picked up the trash outside her front door. She said if the complex is ever going to be rid of mice, rats and cockroaches, everyone needs to do the same.

“I try to keep my area nice,” she said.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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