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NYCHA chairwoman Shola Olatoye denies resignation was driven by lead paint, heating scandals

Mayor de Blasio named Stan Brezenoff as interim chairman.

NYCHA chairwoman Shola Olatoye spoke about the lead-paint scandal at the Ocean Bay Bayside projects in the Far Rockaway section of Queens on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Credit: Newsday / Matthew Chayes)

Shola Olatoye, the chairwoman of the New York City Housing Authority, said Tuesday that she’s resigning because it’s the right time to go, not because of scandals over false lead-paint inspections and failing boilers or looming oversight by the state and federal government.

Speaking at a housing project in the Far Rockaway section of Queens, Olatoye said Mayor Bill de Blasio had never sought her resignation — and in the past, when she asked him whether he wanted her to go, de Blasio asked her to stay.

She called her decision to resign, which will take effect at the end of April, “bittersweet,” citing improved security at public housing, repair times cut by 70 percent and other improvements. She will be succeeded by Stanley Brezenoff, who de Blasio named interim chairman on Tuesday.

Olatoye acknowledged the criticism of her tenure.

“Yes, we have identified some unacceptable shortcomings in our operations. For residents to be uncertain about possible lead paint hazards in their homes or unable to stay warm on the coldest days of winter, it unnerves me that we have failed here. It is a sign, though, of the real struggles that NYCHA faces.”

Although the projects’ woes long predate Olatoye’s tenure — and even her boss Mayor Bill de Blasio’s election — the authority has been under renewed scrutiny since the lead-paint scandal and another disclosure, by the City Council this year, that 80 percent of NYCHA’s 400,000 tenants lost heat or hot water during the recent heating season.

The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York is probing NYCHA’s housing conditions.

Asked about the lead-paint scandal — in which Olatoye falsely certified that apartments been tested for lead paint — de Blasio criticized those who obsess over “whether a form was filled out a certain way.”

Olatoye said, "I regret not knowing sooner" that subordinates had given her wrong information that the inspections had been completed.

De Blasio, a second-term Democrat, for months dismissed calls for Olatoye’s ouster, tweeting in November that the demands were “a cheap stunt” and that she “isn’t going anywhere.” On Tuesday, the mayor said he didn’t want to disclose when Olatoye told him she wanted to resign or provide other details.

De Blasio's first deputy, Dean Fuleihan, defended Olatoye's tenure on Tuesday, saying she inherited a troubled housing authority and still managed to make improvements since she assumed the post in 2014.

“I’m not going to accept that this was a failed four years,” Fuleihan said at a breakfast forum sponsored by Crain’s New York, a business newspaper.

“Under Shola’s leadership, NYCHA for the first time was actually running a balanced budget. There were clearly improvements under this leadership in terms of safety, repairs happening at a faster pace,” he said. “There are improvements that we take credit for that she deserves credit for.”

Oyeshola “Shola” Olatoye, an alumna of Wesleyan University with a master’s in public administration from New York University, became chairwoman and chief executive of NYCHA in 2014. She had sought to modernize the authority’s aging apartment buildings, remediate mold, exterminate vermin and repair leaky roofs, with varying success.

In the past few weeks, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order imposing a state-controlled monitor for the authority’s finances, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development decreed that the city seek permission to spend any federal funds on the authority.

Since taking office, de Blasio has increased the city’s budget for the authority — for decades beset by disinvestment at all levels of government — but has said that it’s fiscally impossible for the city to fully fund the needs of the projects, an amount last week he pegged at “$20 billion-plus.”

Brezenoff, the incoming NYCHA interim chairman, has decades of experience managing municipal government, including jobs as a deputy mayor and others overseeing the Port Authority and the city’s public hospital system — itself in financial extremis.

 

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