NYC Public Housing Leader to Resign Amid Lead Paint Scandal
By Jillian Jorgensen and Greg B. Smith
Beleaguered NYCHA chairwoman Shola Olatoye, accused of making misleading statements about the conditions in public housing and under fire from multiple critics, will announce Tuesday that she is resigning.
Olatoye will make the announcement at a public housing development in the Rockaways along with Mayor de Blasio, who appointed her four years ago and has defended her against a growing chorus of criticism.
Late Monday, the mayor said he will tour the Ocean Bay Bayside Houses Tuesday morning, and a City Hall spokeswoman confirmed Olatoye would step down and the mayor will install government veteran Stanley Brezenoff as interim chair of the New York City Housing Authority.
De Blasio previously relied on Brezenoff as an in-between fix at another troubled, cash-strapped authority, Health & Hospitals, where he took over on an interim basis after the departure of de Blasio's first CEO for the city's public health network, Dr. Ram Raju.
And the mayor has also turned to Brezenoff to provide oversight of the embattled Correction Department as the former chair of the city's Board of Correction.
Late Monday the mayor continued his defense of Olatoye, 43, calling her "a change agent from Day One. Crime is down. Repairs are faster. Finances are stabilized. And NYCHA is putting record investment from the City to work making life better for the 400,000 New Yorkers that call NYCHA home."
He also praised Brezenoff in a statement, saying, "With a proven track record of transforming large agencies, I'm confident that Stan Brezenoff will help to continue our progress while we search for a new chair."
Olatoye has been the subject of growing concern since the city Department of Investigation released a report in November stating she falsely certified in federal documents that NYCHA was performing all required lead paint inspections.
She was then forced to admit that she'd made the claim knowing it wasn't true, and acknowledge that she'd known about it since April 2016 and told the mayor soon after. Both Olatoye and de Blasio then decided to withhold that disclosure from tenants and the public for more than a year.
Then, in December, Olatoye gave erroneous testimony to the City Council under oath, claiming that a recent series of inspections for lead paint in apartments that housed young children had been performed by trained, certified workers.
At the request of City Councilman Ritchie Torres, DOI discovered that was not true. She later claimed she'd been misinformed. Torres (D-Manhattan) and others, including Public Advocate Letitia James, had called for Olatoye to step down.
"While her intentions were never in question, we are long overdue for a fresh start at NYCHA," James said. "It is time to move forward and open a new chapter at NYCHA, one that continuously puts the needs of tenants first."
Torres said, "I think the chairperson's position became indefensible, so it was not a matter of if, but when.
"Even though she has considerable talent as an individual, she was ill-equipped to manage the largest assemblage of public housing in North America," he said.
Torres cast a skeptical eye on the notion that Olatoye's departure wasn't related to the scandals.
"I think it would be disingenuous to deny the context in which the resignation is taking place," he said.
For the last two months, however, de Blasio has stood by Olatoye's side, chiding critics for laying all the blame for NYCHA's myriad problems -- including tenants living with no heat, broken security lighting and endless waits for repairs -- at her doorstep.
The resignation precedes what's expected to be a damaging report by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney whose civil unit has been investigating whether NYCHA deliberately misled federal authorities about its housing conditions.
Three weeks ago, the agency provided federal prosecutors with a "corrective plan" to address their concerns and settle what's expected to be a lawsuit implementing a monitor over the authority.
But the feds rejected that plan and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development began requiring NYCHA to submit all invoices for ongoing federally funded capital projects to a HUD overseer.
(c)2018 New York Daily News