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DTES neighbours want vacant lot cleaned up to stop rats

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – People on the Downtown Eastside are worried about rats that have made their home in the empty lot where the old Pantages Theatre once stood on Hastings Street. Concerns are growing over the potential health risks.

“Now, at night, you see this wave of movement, constantly,” says Ben Smith, describing the rats he can see from his room at the Asia Hotel, which overlooks a big pile of rubble and garbage left behind at the site for months.  

UBC researcher Dr. Chelsea Himsworth is studying rats in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

“The closer the contact, the greater the possibility of disease spread. And we know from other parts of the world that poor, inner-city communities are at highest risk for rat-associated diseases,” explains Himsworth.

She adds very little is known about the types of bacteria and viruses carried by rats in this city. She is trapping rodents at the empty lot in an effort to help answer those questions.

Jean Swanson with the Carnegie Community Action Project suggests the developer, Marc Wiliams, needs to clean up the trash strewn across his property. Williams has future plans to put up condos on the lot.

“It’s a total double standard because development sites around the rest of the city don’t look like this,” points out Swanson, who feels the city may be turning a blind eye because it’s happening on the Downtown Eastside. She wants the municipality to step in and bill the developer for the clean up if need be.    

Smith says there are more than five times as many rats on the property now, compared to a few months ago. “Is the expansion of their territory already happening? And where is it going to end?”

He believes the rats are already in the walls of his building, and is convinced they will find their way into nearby restaurants, stores, and parking garages if the problem isn’t addressed.

In an email to News1130, Barb Floden with the City of Vancouver explains rat and other pest infestations are responsibilities shared between the City and Vancouver Coastal Health.

“We handle general property calls and VCH handles restaurants, health care facilities, food handling facilities, etc. Our process is complaint driven — if you have a pest complaint, call 3-1-1 and we will send an inspector, who then can issue a notice to the property owner to control the pests.”

Floden notes the City has not received any complaints about rats at the site of the former Pantages Theatre. She adds inspectors are now aware of the problem and have visited the site.