The embattled head of the New York City Housing Authority said Tuesday that she regretted not telling “people more, sooner” that the agency knew for more than a year of thousands of housing units not inspected for lead paint as required by federal law.
Shola Olatoye, chairwoman of NYCHA, testifying at a special City Council hearing on the matter, also said she had no “intention to mislead or lie,” to federal regulators when she submitted certification records to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in October 2016 that falsely indicated the city had complied with the federal requirements.
The special hearing was called in response to a city Department of Investigation report released last month that stated NYCHA failed to conduct lead paint inspections at some 4,200 at-risk units starting in 2012.
The city’s probe found that Olatoye, who was appointed in 2014 by Mayor Bill de Blasio, submitted notifications to HUD in October 2016 indicating the city had conducted the lead inspections, even though she had known since April 2016 that the agency had not complied with the federal regulations for years.
Public housing residents were notified of possible lead-paint exposure in May 2016.
Olatoye has faced calls from Public Advocate Letitia James and other council members to step down from her post following the release of the report.
Councilmembers spent four hours Tuesday grilling the chairwoman of the housing authority. Olatoye said she had told HUD officials in Washington D.C. about “gaps in compliance” before submitting the records. Because of that meeting, Olatoye told council members, it was her belief that she had not mislead HUD officials a month later when they got the documents falsely claiming compliance.
In March 2016, Olatoye testified before the City Council that the agency was in compliance with both local and federal lead standards.
Several council members at Tuesday’s hearing asked Olatoye why she did not return to the council to “correct the record,” after finding out in April 2016 the agency had not previously been in compliance.
“Perhaps I should’ve come back,” Olatoye told Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-Brooklyn), the chair of the public housing committee.
Torres said his “confidence and credibility in this agency has been shaken,” but stopped short of calling for her removal, saying it was ultimately de Blasio’s decision.
The mayor has resisted calls to fire Olatoye.
She said the agency has formed an “executive compliance department,” to ensure it adheres to all public housing regulations. The authority is also forming an advisory task force of national lead paint safety experts and creating an “environmental health officer” post to “serve as the agency’s lead paint expert,” Olatoye said.
Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson (D-Bronx) criticized the timing of the new efforts.
“Why are we now calling for a compliance unit two years later?” Gibson asked Olatoye. “A task force of health based experts ... two years later?”