A large rat lurks behind a trash can tire in the 3700 block of North Sawyer Avenue in Irving Park on June 8. (Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago)
A large rat lurks behind a trash can tire in the 3700 block of North Sawyer Avenue in Irving Park on June 8. (Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago)

After eight years of being named the “rattiest city in America,” Chicago is boosting its rat abatement budget.

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s recommended budget allocates $14.85 million to the Bureau of Rodent Control for the 2024 fiscal year. That’s about $1.5 million more than the bureau received last year for “rodent control” services, which includes eliminating unwelcome guests through inspections and baiting of alleys and sewers, and removing dead rodents from the public way, according to budget documents.

The boost comes after a Block Club Chicago and Illinois Answers Project investigation found the city can’t keep up with rat infestations booming citywide since the pandemic.

As Chicagoans filed over 50,000 rat complaints last year, the city’s Inspector General’s office said it would audit the bureau for being ill-prepared to handle the surge in complaints and failing to exterminate rodents efficiently.

For the last two years, the bureau failed to meet its goals to handle each rat complaint within five days, according to the investigation. Rat responses were slowest in some West and South side neighborhoods.

In a statement, a Streets and Sanitation spokesperson said the additional funding will bring on three new rat control crews — including three new vehicles and six additional staff members. The extra funding will also cover salary increases across the board for union employees who negotiated a new contract last month, the spokesperson said.

As of Friday, citywide rat complaints were down slightly through this time last year, from 40,173 rodent-related service requests in 2022 to 38,742 in 2023, the spokesperson said in a statement.

Budget documents show the bureau’s full-time staff equivalents will increase from 114 to 118 people under the mayor’s recommendations. But the rat-fighting bureau is still down about a quarter of its employees since 2019, when it had about 160 people working full time, city records show.

Casey Toner of the Illinois Answers Project contributed to this report.

Mack is a writer for Block Club Chicago covering a little bit of everything. He reports on the role of sports in community, quirky local happenings and unsung Chicagoans who make the city tick.
Originally from New Jersey, Mack earned his master’s in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s in political science from Vassar College, where he also led The Miscellany News, one of the oldest student newspapers in the country.