By Christine Chung, THE CITY
This story was originally published on June 18, 2019 by THE CITY.
Glossy skyscrapers aren’t the only things rising in Long Island City: On one street, garbage — and rats — are mounting outside a building filled with city agencies.
On 28th Street and Queens Plaza North, next to JetBlue’s offices and near two major subway stations, trash piles regularly tower several feet high.
Dozens of translucent trash bags brim with discarded food, with a Tetris-like grid of cardboard boxes piled alongside. Then there are bags of shredded document confetti, all produced by the occupants of 28-11 Queens Plaza North — a nine-floor building housing various city agencies, including outposts of the Departments of Education and Transportation.
Local residents say the trash has forced them to share the sidewalk with a mobile mischief of rats.
“You see them every night scattering and you hear them,” said Maria Halpern, 63, who has lived on the block for a year with her daughter Katie. “You know the dead people in ‘Game of Thrones?’ The White Walkers? That’s how they march down the block.”
Last summer, Whitney Booker, 36, moved into a newly constructed 16-story building just down the block, enticed by lower rents than where she’d previously lived in Manhattan.
“There were like a mafia of rats living there…. You know how at the Jersey Shore the seagulls aren’t even afraid of people anymore?” asked Booker. “The rats would almost give you a death stare if you’d try and go there.”
Complaints Go Largely Unheeded
On a recent balmy Saturday morning, a reporter spotted nearly two dozen cardboard boxes and upwards of 20 trash bags slumped next to metal barricades cordoning the street from the garbage. Passersby walked cautiously along a narrow strip of sidewalk as rats scurried in and out of the piles.
Several area residents said they have been lodging complaints for months to the building’s management, the agencies housed there, to 311 and to the Department of Sanitation.
Over the last year, 311 recorded 16 service requests related to rats and sanitation at the building.
The efforts resulted in one small measure of relief — a row of 10 black garbage bins provided in April to house some of the excess.
But locals say that’s not enough. James Logan, 58, said the trash piles still remain for days at a time. And a large part of the sidewalk directly next to the bins is cordoned off for reasons unclear to residents, who note the building is enveloped in scaffolding.
“They’ve corralled the sidewalk and the parking spots on the street and made it their own garbage dump,” Logan added.
“I think [city officials] just don’t care,” said Katie Halpern, 24. “There’s a lack of concern and empathy for the people that live in the area and that work in the area.”
Vito Turso, a Sanitation Department spokesperson, would only say that garbage is collected from in front of the building twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. He directed further questions to City Hall.
Seth Stein, a spokesperson for the mayor, said that the city is “having discussions with all the involved agencies and tenants to come up with potential options to address this garbage overflow.” He did not elaborate. He also did not respond to an inquiry about the purpose of the building’s scaffolding.
Nick Benson, a Department of Citywide Administrative Services spokesperson told THE CITY, the agency does not own or manage 28-11 Queens Plaza North.
At the request of constituents, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens) stepped into the trash quagmire, only to discover the city agencies operating out of the building were reluctant to take responsibility.
“City agencies must set an example and clean up after themselves,” Van Bramer said.
The agencies, he added, “need to get their acts together and come up with a sustainable solution.”
Logan said he was pinballed among various agencies in his search for answers. He said he last heard from the Mayor’s Office in January — and was told he “should receive a response soon.”
“The city’s bureaucracy is an absolute obstacle course for its citizens to resolve legitimate complaints,” he said.
This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.