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A large family tormented by a cockroach infestation at the Queensbridge Houses is given options for new apartments by NYCHA as the agency undergoes an unrelated leadership change.
By Bill Parry

A large family that has been tormented by an infestation of cockroaches in its Queensbridge Houses apartment since July 2016 is now at the top of a waiting list for a new apartment in Queens, according to the New York City Housing Authority, but five-bedroom apartments are rare in public housing, with only one available in the borough last year.

Warda Ibrahim, 37, and her husband Tarek Ali, 51,have been offered, and are open to accepting, an available apartment in Staten Island for a more immediate move with their nine children, who range in age from 2 months to 19 years.

“We have been working with the family to provide them an apartment as soon as we can,” NYCHA spokeswoman Jasmine Blake said. “While we waited for an apartment to become available, we continued to respond to all repair requests, including sending an exterminator this weekend.”

It was the third time exterminators had treated the apartment since August, according to NYCHA, which saw its second-in-command hand in his resignation. NYCHA General Manager Michael Kelly became the third official to step down since the agency became mired in scandal after it violated federal standards requiring lead paint inspections.

“It was a decision at a natural point,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told New York 1 on Monday. “It’s a natural point where people have to make a decision about their own life. Michael Kelly did some very good work and very important work for NYCHA. It was a good moment for him to move on.”

The mayor stuck by his embattled NYCHA chairwoman, Shola Olatoye, who is the target of a probe by the city’s Department of Investigation, which is looking into allegations she lied about the lead paint inspections while testifying under oath at the City Council. Olatoye claimed that inspections of 4,200 apartments were carried out by workers with proper Department of Housing and Urban Development certification.

DOI found that the inspectors did not have HUD certification.

“The chair was truthful and relied on the facts provided to her. She was told staff had been trained,” said Blake, the NYCHA spokeswoman. “We will evaluate DOI’s claims to understand their assertions here,”

Olatoye could face a misdemeanor charge or face fines of up to $1,000.

“Shola Olatoye has run the Housing Authority for four years, took an almost bankrupt organization, righted its finances, made it stable, created a plan to invest in the future,” de Blasio said Wednesday morning on WNYW’s “Good Day New York.” “When you look at the head of an organization who has steadily, consistently, improved a very troubled organization, guess what? She needs to stay for the good of those residents, and I don’t care how many people feel differently.

“I’ve gone into those buildings. I talk to these residents. It’s my responsibility to make sure they are safe. She has helped make them safer; she has helped to protect them.”

Meanwhile, the mayor appointed Vito Mustaciuolo to replace Kelly as NYCHA acting general manager, overseeing the maintenance of all developments. It was Kelly who gave de Blasio and other elected officials a tour of the boiler room when heat and hot water failed at the Woodside Houses as Winter Storm Grayson slammed the city Jan. 4.

De Blasio announced last week that the city will invest $13 million to help NYCHA respond rapidly to future heating emergencies and replace failing equipment.

“This investment will address some of our most problematic infrastructure through this recent cold spell and also increase staffing so we can respond to outages faster,” Olatoye said. “This support from Mayor de Blasio will literally keep the heat on in thousands of NYCHA homes and is critical in our efforts to improve service for residents.”

While the heat failure at the Woodside Houses was due to low gas pressure, and National Grid sent crews to resolve that issue, boiler failure was to blame at the sprawling Redfern Houses in Far Rockaway, where nearly 1,500 residents were left in the cold.

This fall, NYCHA broke ground on a new elevated boiler plan that will include a new community center and day care center as part of a $123 million investment under the agency’s Office of Recovery and Resilience as part of a Superstorm Sandy-related grant.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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