Shola Olatoye, the chairwoman of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), was on the hot seat Wednesday, grilled for three hours at a city council hearing, as lawmakers demanded answers about substandard conditions in the public housing system she oversees.
"NYCHA residents are suffering," Bronx City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson said. "They were suffering yesterday, they are suffering today, and unless we get our acts together, they will suffer tomorrow."
NYCHA officials, and by extension Mayor Bill de Blasio, have come under fire for heat and hot water outages, falsified paperwork related to lead paint inspections, and decrepit conditions.
Olatoye testified that the problems are long-running, and that threatened federal funding cuts could make them worse.
"For four years, I've discussed NYCHA's dire financial state, including its enormous capital needs," she said.
The nation's largest public housing agency serves about 400,000 tenants and has an annual operating budget of $3.3 billion.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo met some of those tenants Monday, touring a NYCHA development in the Bronx, calling the conditions there "horrendous" and threatening to declare a state of emergency at NYCHA.
The next day, Cuomo met with City Council Speaker Cory Johnson, discussing how to speed up housing repairs. One plan is called Design Build.
But Cuomo wants the mayor, the council, and tenant leaders to select an independent contractor to do the work, a suggestion that the mayor's office called "empty recycled rhetoric we don't have time for."
Council members said Wednesday that NYCHA tenants are caught in the middle of the back-and-forth part of the bitter feud between the governor and the mayor.
"A male measuring contest come to a fever-pitch. And it's disturbing," Brooklyn City Councilman Jumaane Williams said. "The only thing that's not disturbing: I think because of the contest, NYCHA residents might accidentally get helped."
Council members seized on $200 million that Cuomo promised NYCHA but won't release unless the independent contractor is appointed.
"We can't talk about new allocations of money if we haven't even been given the $200 million that was put in last year's state budget," Gibson said. "Something is wrong, and there is a level of trust that is lacking here."
Cuomo said he expects to make a decision by April 1 on whether he will declare a state of emergency at NYCHA, which is also the deadline for the new state budget.