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New NYCHA chief talks about trust at First Houses | amNewYork

New NYCHA chief talks about trust at First Houses

NYCHA Chairperson Shola Olatoye, front right, spoke with a resident, 92, in the First Houses back yard, as Brenda Santiago, the tenants council president, listened in.  Photos by Lesley Sussman
NYCHA Chairperson Shola Olatoye, front right, spoke with a resident, 92, in the First Houses back yard, as Brenda Santiago, the tenants council president, listened in. Photos by Lesley Sussman

BY LESLEY SUSSMAN  |  Shola Olatoye, chairperson of the New York City Housing Authority, paid a surprise visit on Wed., July 2, to the East Village’s First Houses, as part of a renewed effort by the city agency to establish “better relations and trust” with its tenants and staff.

Olatoye, a Mayor de Blasio appointee who has been on the job a bit more than 100 days, toured the NYCHA housing development, on E. Third St. and Avenue A. Opening in 1935, the First Houses were the nation’s first public housing development. 

Olatoye spoke with workers inside the future home of the St. Mark’s Bookshop, in a First Houses retail space on E. Third St. The bookstore is slated to reopen at the new location later this month.
Olatoye spoke with workers inside the future home of the St. Mark’s Bookshop, in a First Houses retail space on E. Third St. The bookstore is slated to reopen at the new location later this month.

The chairperson visited the apartment of a 92-year-old resident, and then met with the tenants council to field questions and respond to concerns.

During that meeting, Olatoye told Brenda Santiago, the tenants council president, that these grassroots meetings were “important to my learning experience and a way to build more trust between tenants and us.”

Yet, she said, the Housing Authority’s financial picture was challenging.

“We lost half of our federal funding in 1981,” she explained. “And yet we have a significant aging population that needs special care, and many buildings that are over 80 years old and in need of repair.

“Our greatest challenge is to make sure that the New York City Housing Authority is here for the next 100 years in order to provide affordable housing to the poor,” Olatoye stated. “Our primary task is to focus in on ways of getting resources to continue our work.”

The chairperson said there are currently more than 150,000 people on a waiting list for NYCHA apartments, and that this list is growing daily.

She also stressed that the mayor wants to ensure that NYCHA developments don’t become “disconnected islands” within the surrounding community.  

“The mayor has asked us to figure out ways to contribute to the community,” Olatoye said, “and that is now part of our mission, along with preserving NYCHA housing for future generations.”

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