By Bill Parry
Embattled NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye was conspicuously absent when Mayor Bill de Blasio came to the Queensbridge Houses for a rooftop press briefing last week. She was on a family vacation, the mayor explained, but on Tuesday Olatoye announced she would depart the post at the end of April.
“While the challenges facing public housing are significant — I’m incredibly proud of the leadership team we’ve assembled and the strides we’ve made over the last four years to speed up repair times, reduce crime, launch a major development program to bring NYCHA into the 21st century,” she said at the Ocean Bay Bayside Apartments in Arverne.
The mayor had come to Long Island City to announce that all 26 roofs at the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City have been completely replaced for the first time in more than 30 years.
The nearly $56 million replacement project will benefit the complex’s 13,000 residents by reducing mold, which can cause asthma and other respiratory diseases, and end the chronic leaking, which can cause damage to the building’s physical structure.
“Residents may never see the roof over their heads, but they will feel the difference,” de Blasio said during a rooftop press briefing last Friday. “We are targeting a major source of leaks and mold, making kids healthier and helping parents sleep easier. With the right resources, we can deliver real-time improvements to the quality of life for thousands of families.”
In addition to the new roofs, the de Blasio administration has also installed free Wi-Fi throughout the development, 360 closed circuit security cameras and 858 security lights. The crime rate at Queensbridge has fallen 21 percent since 2013, according to City Hall.
Thirty-nine more NYCHA roofs were replaced around the city as part of the project’s first phase and another 78 roofs will be replaced during the $100 million phase two of the project, which will be completed by June 29.
After De Blasio said the project at Queensbridge Houses was completed on time and under budget, he then took some shots at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has made four highly publicized press appearances at NYCHA complexes around the city in recent weeks. The governor also signed an executive order last week creating a new independent monitor to oversee $250 million in the state budget for necessary repairs at NYCHA developments citywide.
De Blasio accused Cuomo of treating NYCHA residents like a “political football” instead of disbursing more than $250 million in funding previously allocated to NYCHA in the 2015 and 2017 state budgets.
“There are some politicians who suddenly believe it is stylish to visit NYCHA,” de Blasio said. “I’ve been visiting public housing buildings throughout my entire career, all the time, throughout my mayoralty. I’ve been highly involved trying to help our public housing authority which, bluntly, for decades didn’t get enough help from the city, didn’t get enough help from the state, didn’t get enough help from the federal government.”
When asked if he was referring to Cuomo, de Blasio said “of course, I’m talking about the governor. He hadn’t been to a NYCHA development for five years [prior] to his recent tour. Let’s be real.”
Meanwhile, residents at the nearby Ravenswood Houses were celebrating the end of a major quality-of-life issue that has plagued that complex for more than two decades. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said the city Department of Sanitation had finally found a location for its garbage trucks that have clogged 35th Avenue between 21st and 12th streets for years.
“It wasn’t just a nuisance, it was a danger,” Van Bramer said. “The residents of Ravenswood Houses won a very big victory here that shows you can beat City Hall.”
Van Bramer and Ravenswood Tenants Association President Carol Wilkins took Mayor de Blasio to the DSNY depot at 34-28 21st St. to complain about the double parked trucks during a blizzard in 2016. During a town hall meeting in Long Island City last May, de Blasio announced he had allocated $143 million to relocate that garage.
“That will still take a couple of years, but last week we received a letter from Sanitation that they finally found that location to store the trucks, and Monday they were gone from the streets around Ravenswood Houses,” Van Bramer said. “It’s a huge victory. The people fought for their dignity, and they won.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr