Nearly half of blacks who made $25K a year or less reported cockroaches—and so did nearly three-fifths of “Hispanics” in that income bracket. (Need we correlate that, in 2003, it was found that nearly half the black men in New York City aged 16 to 64 did not have employment?)
Well-off African-Americans were actually just as likely as poor whites to have cockroaches, but well-off Hispanics had as few roaches as rich whites. The “Asian and other” among us were definitely more likely to have roaches than nearly all white people.
And in another study in East Harlem at the same time, four out of five households had cockroaches.
Let’s put it geographically. In 2003, 30 percent of households in New York City overall reported roaches. That percentage declines on the Upper East Side, midtown, the West Village—down to as low as 11 percent. That percentage hovers around the average of near-Brooklyn, the Upper West Side and near-Queens—and goes way up in the Bronx and central Brooklyn, topping out at 57 percent.
In the 311 stats from last year, the city had 5,373 vermin (that’s rodents and cockroaches) complaints in Manhattan; that number for both the Bronx and Brooklyn was about double that.
Those vermin complaints have escalated since 2002, in every borough—although they are near to flat in Manhattan.
But six years ago, there were half the number of complaints in the Bronx and Brooklyn that there are today.
AT THE CORNER of Lorimer and Maujer in Williamsburg, just up from the Lorimer L stop, they have just built some fancy new condos amid the other fancy new condos and some of the old buildings.
This is the liminal zone for New York’s roach population. Old, decrepit buildings lean against each other and against the spiffy new condos like people falling asleep on the train; owners of million-dollar condos live cheek-by-jowl with families that have been here since before it was a “hot” neighborhood. Tactics for making sure the roaches stay on the right side of the wall, according to the locals, can be extreme.
“They bomb the furniture,” a contractor on the site of the spiffy new condo told a reporter. “They bomb all the new furniture and stuff coming in here with roach spray.”
The owner was across the street petting a Rottweiler.
“Where are the roaches? I’ll tell you where all the roaches are,” he said. “They’re in all the cardboard. We seal all the holes, we seal all the doors, and make sure everything stays clean.”
The neighborhood isn’t anything like roach-free, either. Here is a scene from the post office on Lorimer Street:
“Oh, man, it was a stompfest for a whole minute,” said one guy, of visiting his neighbor’s apartment long ago. “There were small ones, big ones, baby ones, pregnant ones. …”
“Growing up, they were like roommates to me,” said another guy. “I’d pick one and play with it, flick it.”
“Remember during the winter and stuff,” said the first one, “there were always mad roaches by the radiator?”
Everyone said, “Yeah.” But where have they gone?
“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. We live the same; it’s just not the same with the roaches anymore. Maybe it’s the tenants or something. … We didn’t get an exterminator or anything.”
“They sort of just mysteriously come and go,” said a girl who lives on the block, on Maujer St. “I mind them—I’m just broke.”
“I don’t know nothing about roaches,” said her super, Pablo. “Roaches come and go, I don’t want to answer any questions because I don’t know.”
And there is an old Puerto Rican guy who hangs out on the street by there, called Candellero.
“You pay a lot of rent now,” he said, pointing at those new condos. “What do I pay? You want to know what I pay? Guess. One hundred twenty. I’ve lived here for 48 years. Same apartment. It’s worth it. It’s quiet. Some roaches. But it’s quiet.”
“Rent is $2,000 sometimes now,” he said. “You can’t pay, then you have to move. Then where you live? The park over there,” he suggested. But he warned: “There are roaches there.”
IN THE CITY that has lived past the end of civilization, what was once the everyman plague isn’t everybody’s anymore.
Now more than ever, there are two classes of housing—roach-proof and roach-friendly. That would be: rich and everyone else. But there are border skirmishes when people try to jump up a class.
Some buildings adjacent to the World Trade Center, according to a September 2002 New York Times survey, had experienced turnover as great as 70 percent in the year previous. There were no roaches before then, said a woman named Kim, who has lived in Gateway Plaza since 1990.
“I talked to a doorman who said people had them in the boxes when they moved in and that’s where I got them from,” she said. “After 9/11, when there was grant money and a huge influx of people from the Lower East Side moved in, and they were doing construction all over the place—then I had roaches.”
“After that,” she said, “it was cockroach city. It hasn’t been the same.”
—Additional reporting by Matt Townsend.