By Naeisha Rose
Mayor Bill de Blasio toured the recently renovated Ocean Bay Bayside Houses Tuesday in Far Rockaway, which featured new kitchens and bathrooms, calling it a model for the rest of the NYCHA repairs that will happen around the city.
Following the tour he also announced the new interim chair of NYCHA, Stan Brezenoff, who will take over after Chairwoman Shola Olatoyez steps down from the position next month. Olatoyez, who the mayor strongly defended, was wrapped up in controversy in a lead paint scandal.
The city Department of Investigation reported that Olatoye falsely certified that NYCHA was in compliance with lead paint inspection requirements. DOI said that since 2012 the authority neglected doing the required annual inspections of apartments that may have lead contamination.
Olatoye said she is not resigning because of the controversy but because she felt she did all she could do during her tenure.
The Ocean Bay upgrades came from the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. That initiative preserves public housing while allowing for private investment in renovations and infrastructure. De Blasio praised Olatoyez’s hard work with the RAD program, which has already reached 14,000 families, and called it a model that works. He plans to apply it more broadly to the other 400,000 residents of NYCHA over the next 10 years.
All 1,400 apartments in the Ocean Bay complex are being renovated with brand new kitchens and bathrooms. De Blasio said the roofs, heating systems, elevators and windows at each of the 24 buildings are being fully replaced, and new rooftop solar arrays and a flood wall are under construction.
De Blasio said for decades, public housing did not get the investment it deserved from the federal and state governments. He said when he first took office, he and Olatoyez began investing in NYCHA.
“There was no law that required it,” he said.” There was no mandate. It was just the right thing to do.”
De Blasio added that the administration ended the practice of NYCHA having to pay the NYPD for police services and put that money into speeding up the repairs that residents needed. De Blasio said his administration added $2.1 billion to NYCHA for major capital initiatives and $1.6 billion for operating funds.
“We know that those investments made a difference,” he said. “That’s a massive investment. The city of New York has never ever made such an investment before in public housing.”
He said one of the main reasons so many investments were made was because of Olatoyez.
“We had a leader at NYCHA who had a plan and vision for how to move the agency forward,” he said. “From the beginning, Olatoye did not say this is an insurmountable problem, this is too tough a job, this is going to be difficult. She didn’t say it’s a dangerous mission — therefore I’m not willing to on it.”
Olatoye said her decision to step down was because she felt she did all she could and was ready to move forward.
“It’s been an honor to serve the one in 14 New Yorkers who call public housing home,” she said. “I leave this role secure in the knowledge that we created a path for a stronger and safer NYCHA in the years ahead as the de Blasio Administration moves forward.”
De Blasio called Olatoye’s replacement “one of the great public servants in the last generation in this City”
Brezenoff has served as first deputy mayor, the head of Port Authority and at Health and Hospitals.
“This is one of the toughest jobs in America,” he said. “Under Mayor de Blasio and Olatoye, NYCHA has faced down enormous challenges, launched an enormous turnaround effort and improved the lives of residents. I’m committed to working with residents, finding new solutions and making progress that people will see and feel in their communities.”
When asked about the lead paint controversy, De blasio said Olatoye and his administration did everything they could and blamed the previous Bloomberg administration.
“My regret is that people who had been a part of NYCHA for a long time did not share the information they should,” he said. “ If we had been given any indication that the inspections were not done the way they were supposed to have been done, that they had stopped during the previous administration we would have acted on it immediately.”
He said there is no question that had they known we would have acted.
“Shola immediately alerted HUD to the fact that the inspections had not been done and that they were now going to be done,” he said. “That’s exactly what she was supposed to do. There was an effort in every way to do the right thing, to be transparent, to be consistent, and in the end under very adverse circumstances I think what Shola did and everyone else of us was try to do the best we could with what we had been presented.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart