Mayor Talks NYCHA Success & Failures at Ocean Bay Apartments

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On Tuesday, April 10, Mayor Bill de Blasio was in town to get a firsthand look at some of the improvements at local New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) property, Ocean Bay Apartments, and to tout the improvements. However the tour came just after it was announced that NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye would be resigning at the end of the month, following scandals revolving around NYCHA failures.

On Tuesday, de Blasio toured the Ocean Bay apartments and met with various residents like Iris Collado, an Ocean Bay resident for 12 years, who claims to have seen improvements to the complex over the years. De Blasio spoke of how one of Collado’s biggest concerns when she first moved in, was safety, after experiencing a bullet come through her window. The mayor touted safety improvements, saying, “Iris told me, up in her apartment, she used to wonder if she could go out in the morning and be safe. And today, thank God, it’s an entirely different environment and she walks out in the street and knows she’s going to be safe.” He thanked the combined efforts of local elected officials, NYCHA staff and the NYPD for these improvements.

De Blasio also celebrated other improvements made possible by a mass amount of city funding for NYCHA properties, under his administration. “One of the very first things we did in February of 2014 was to start investing in NYCHA. There was no law that required it. There was no mandate. It was just the right thing to do,” he said. He cited $2.1 billion for major capital initiatives and $1.6 billion for operating funds that have been poured into NYCHA since his administration took over. “The City of New York has never ever made such an investment before in public housing. $2.1 billion plus $1.6 billion, when you add that together, $3.7 billion in City funds – unprecedented.” The mayor said that the funding allowed NYCHA to speed up much-needed repairs within the buildings, create resiliency measures and renovate thousands of apartments.

The Mayor discussed and toured Ocean Bay Bayside apartments specifically because of the changes that have taken place there over the years. “I want to thank everyone because what I have seen today is an example of the shape of things to come – what we’re going to be doing more and more in NYCHA developments around this city. And what you’re seeing here is one of the trailblazer places – one of the places where the model of change is being developed. And it’s extraordinary to see,” he said. He added that almost 14,000 families have seen some of the improvements across NYCHA, including renovated apartments and acknowledged that these are just some of the first steps that have taken place for “turning around NYCHA and righting a lot of the wrongs of the past.”

De Blasio also credited NYCHA chair Shola Olatoye, who was present at Tuesday’s press conference, for many of the improvements made over the years. “In the first months of our administration, we came to learn that NYCHA was on the brink of bankruptcy and that this organization was literally teetering on the verge of collapse. Again the notion was, that someone had to fix it, someone had to be brave enough to step forward. Shola and her team did that and they made the organization solvent, they took a lot of tough choices, there was certainly opposition, but today we have an organization that is stable in its position to finally move forward into the future.”

He also credited Olatoye for implementing strategies like RAD - Rental Assistance Demonstration. RAD is a program created by the Obama Administration in 2011, which enables Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) to protect the long-term affordability of public housing units that are in need of rehabilitation and financial support. Starting in 2013, Ocean Bay was one of the first NYCHA buildings where NYCHA leaders met with residents of the buildings to discuss ways the Authority could renovate, repair, and improve the quality of life at the development through the RAD program. Today, Ocean Bay is the nation’s largest Rental Assistance Demonstration conversion project. All 1,400 apartments in the complex—home to nearly 4,000 residents—are being renovated with brand new kitchens and bathrooms. The roofs, heating systems, elevators and windows at each of the 24 buildings are being fully replaced, and new resiliency measures including rooftop solar arrays and a flood wall are under construction.

“Shola believed this model could be a difference maker, she made it central to the Next Generation NYCHA Plan, and I want to remind you, you can go back and look over the last decades, you’re not going to see a plan that’s as comprehensive and honest about how to turn NYCHA around as the plan that Shola created,” de Blasio said.

Despite de Blasio’s praise for Olatoye, the elephant in the room remained—Olatoye is resigning from NYCHA following scandals of failures within the program. NYCHA has come over scrutiny lately due to heat outages in many of the buildings over this past, cold winter. The Department of Investigation also found that NYCHA had not been conducting required annual lead inspections in its building and found that Olatoye falsely certified that the authority was in compliance with lead paint inspection requirements.

Olatoye did acknowledge the failure, saying, “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.” The mayor and Olatoye placed the blame on other NYCHA employees, who are no longer working for the agency, for failing to conduct the inspections and lying about it. “I regret not knowing sooner,” Olatoye said, about the lack of inspections.

Olatoye will continue her role as NYCHA Chair until the end of April. At Tuesday’s press conference, de Blasio announced that Stanley Brezenoff will step in as Interim Chair. Brezenoff has served as President of New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, the City's Deputy Mayor for Operations, First Deputy Mayor, Executive Director of the Port Authority, President and Chief Executive Officer of Maimonides Medical Center, CEO and President of Continuum Health Partners, Inc., and most recently, he was the interim CEO of New York City Health + Hospitals.

“With a proven track record of transforming large agencies, I’m confident that Stanley Brezenoff will help to continue our progress while we search for a new chair,” de Blasio said in a press release.

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