De Blasio backs NYCHA chief amid calls for resignation

New York City Housing Authority chairwoman Shola Olatoye “isn’t going anywhere,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday amid growing calls for her resignation.

Public Advocate Letitia James joined a small chorus of city and state lawmakers on Thursday who are demanding Olatoye step down following a “damning” report alleging she knew about years’ worth of failures to inspect apartments for lead-based paint and still signed off on documents claiming compliance with the federal government.

De Blasio, who is on vacation in Connecticut, said those who want Olatoye to resign are putting politics ahead of residents’ needs.

“.@SholaOlatoye is turning NYCHA around and she isn’t going anywhere. She didn’t create the agency’s shortcomings–she’s the one I trust to fix them. It’s a cheap stunt to call for her to step down, one that puts political ambition ahead of the urgent needs of NYCHA’s residents,” de Blasio said on Twitter.

The city’s Department of Investigation, which released its report on Tuesday, found that NYCHA not only stopped conducting the visual assessments for lead paint at about 55,000 apartments beginning in 2013, but the agency also continued to file false documentation to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development claiming that the units had been inspected and were in compliance.

Senior staffers at NYCHA were made aware the agency was no longer in compliance in 2015 and chairwoman Shola Olatoye was alerted to the issue in 2016, yet false documentation continued to be submitted to the federal government, according to the DOI report.

“This is the fourth time in two years that DOI has found NYCHA to be careless when it comes to tenant safety,” DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters said. “NYCHA has an obligation both to protect tenants and to be honest with the public. Today’s report should be an important step in ensuring that NYCHA meets these obligations.”

Following the report, NYCHA spokeswoman Jean Weinberg said the agency began to address the issues outlined by DOI over a year ago during an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

“Since the Housing Authority learned it wasn’t in full compliance with lead-based paint regulations and reporting, it has taken steps to address the underlying issues. We owe our residents better, and we’ll take today’s recommendations into careful consideration,” Weinberg said in the statement on Tuesday.

DOI recommended a monitor oversee NYCHA activities – particularly with regard to lead paint, smoke alarm and carbon dioxide alarm inspections – and report back to DOI on any findings, but James, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and two lawmakers are demanding more be done.

“The circumstances surrounding the city’s failure to conduct lead inspections and the false reporting that followed are simply unacceptable,” James said on Thursday. “Every man, woman, and child who calls a NYCHA apartment unit home deserves to live in safe, decent conditions and the City must do everything in its power to ensure that these residents are protected.”

James, along with state Assemblyman Walter Mosley (D-Brooklyn) and City Councilman Rafael Salamanca, called for Olatoye to resign as head of the agency. All three officials agreed that changes at NYCHA were needed, but differed on action plans.

Salamanca, whose district mostly covers parts of the Bronx, said he felt compelled to put his personal friendship with Olatoye aside and call for her to step down.

“I believe there is no justification for why lead paint testing and abatement wasn’t completed and reported properly. This was incompetent at best, negligent at worst,” he said in an emailed statement Thursday.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. meanwhile, said he agreed with the DOI’s recommendation but wants the monitor to be appointed by the state, citing the city’s “current position supervising NYCHA” and the federal government’s “apparent distaste for public housing” as reasons why the state needs to be the one to hold the agency accountable. He declined to call for Olatoye’s resignation.

“A state-appointed monitor is the only credible way forward to provide for the safety and well-being of our city’s public housing residents,” Diaz added.

When asked for comment, NYCHA deferred to de Blasio’s tweet.


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