Every morning, Aida Torres shoos away rodents, then repeatedly cleans in front and behind her Mexican restaurant, Don Burrito, in Brooklyn’s Newkirk Plaza.
In the afternoon, she pours chlorine on the ground to deter the critters from scampering around her niche in the small shopping plaza atop the B and Q-line subway stop in Flatbush.
At night, she tightly seals off every nook and cranny of her business’ exterior — out of fear of a full-out rat invasion of her restaurant’s kitchen and food storage area.
“They’re not small rats,” Torres told THE CITY in Spanish. “They’re huge.”
Torres and others in the neighborhood say they’re confronting an ever-growing rat infestation problem that no city or state agency is taking responsibility for.
On Thursday, leaders of the nonprofit Flatbush Development Corporation (FDC) rallied at the plaza with locals, elected officials and City Council candidates to draw attention to the crisis that many say has been brushed aside by Mayor Bill de Blasio, city agencies and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The city owns the plaza, according to the MTA.
“We need New York City government to take notice of what’s happening here — and we need it now!” Robin Redmond, executive director of FDC, told the crowd.
Redmond urged community members to call 311 to file a complaint when they encounter a rat, so that city officials might be forced to take corrective action.
Candidates in Parade
At the rally, several candidates competing to replace term-limited Council member Mathieu Eugene (D-Brooklyn) — including Harriet Hines, Kenya Handy-Hilliard, Edwin Raymond, Josue Pierre and Blake Morris — seized the moment to make last-minute appeals to voters on how they’d tackle local issues, including dealing with rats.
Morris, who volunteers as a lawyer for FDC, said the nonprofit needs funding “so that they can hire the pest control and maintenance people that clean the plaza.”
In addition to discarded food from diners and commuters, locals contend a vacant, fenced-in property on the corner of Newkirk Avenue and Marlborough Road, which borders the plaza and used to be a gas station, is contributing to the rat problem.
“Everyone keeps saying, ‘Oh, we have to do something about that property where the gas station used to be,’” said Laura Campbell-Lui, a 21-year resident of the Ditmas Park neighborhood.
At the rally, state Assemblymember Robert Carroll (D-Brooklyn) chastised what he called the area’s “absentee landlords,” saying they must be held accountable.
“If they’re not going to take care of their property, we need to find a way that the city is going to take that property back,” said Carroll, whose district is nearby but doesn’t include the plaza. “It is not a place for you … to warehouse belongings, and rats.”
“That’s unacceptable,” he added. “And we need to stop that.”
Striving for Supermarket
A tall metal barrier surrounds the corner lot, which is owned by Solly Mann. Community members argue that the barrier, which has been up for years, is illegal.
Mann’s son, Teddy Mann, told THE CITY that the barrier originally went up to prevent people from throwing food onto the property, which had contributed to the rat population.
He rejected the allegation that his father was an absentee owner and said they were doing all that they could to stem the proliferation of vermin.
“We exterminate that lot,” Mann said. “We put poison in there for the rats.”
He said his father submitted a plan to the city’s Department of Buildings to construct a single-story building that would house a supermarket like a Trader Joe’s. But due to the pandemic, he said, his father has been waiting for the paperwork to be processed.
“We’re in a pandemic right now and we have to be patient,” he said.
At a 2018 town hall meeting in Flatbush, Alvin Berk, of Brooklyn’s Community Board 14, reiterated neighborhood concerns over the “ambiguous” ownership of Newkirk Plaza, noting that jurisdiction gets murky between the MTA and city agencies.
The mayor conceded that “it’s not been fair to the community that this has been so long without resolution.” He pledged to take care of the problem.
“By this summer, we will resolve these issues, so people know that Newkirk Plaza will be cleaned and will be kept properly for the community,” de Blasio said.
But the mayor hasn’t kept his promise, locals and the outlet Bklyner point out.
Meanwhile, eradicating the rodents and improving Newkirk Plaza has been a community board priority for about a decade, said chair Jo Ann Brown.
“Every single year, we ask the city in our District Needs [Statement] to take care of this issue, to take care of this plaza, to bring ownership, and clearly it still has not happened,” said Brown.
Brown told THE CITY that there are simple ways to improve the plaza.
She said the city Department of Transportation could accept the plaza into one of its pedestrian programs, which aims to improve quality-of-life conditions, and the city’s Economic Development Corporation could put out a call to find a proper plaza manager, which would be responsible for keeping it rat-free.
Local resident Carol Gladden said that she avoids the plaza and its subway stop when she can, and opts to take cabs instead. She said when she moved to the area two years ago, she saw so many rats in the plaza and surrounding area that she told her husband she would never return.
“They are used to us,’’ Gladden said. They’re smart creatures, and they know there is food all over here.”