The embattled head of the city's public housing authority was grilled at a city council hearing Tuesday over her agency's failure to conduct mandatory lead paint inspections for years. She was also pressed on her refusal to go public with the lead paint news once she became aware of the lapses. NY1 Political Reporter Grace Rauh filed the following report.
Shola Olatoye said she did it on her own: the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) chairwoman told city council members Tuesday that she did not consult with top city officials about signing federal documents falsely stating that her agency had conducted lead paint inspections, even though it had not.
"Signing the form at that time was a mistake, given what we know," Olatoye testified at City Hall.
The chair and CEO of the public housing authority testified that she did not talk to Mayor Bill de Blasio about signing the paperwork. She suggested Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen was in the dark as well.
"I don't recall saying, 'I am signing the document today, deputy mayor,'" Olatoye said.
The tense hearing came three weeks after the city's Department of Investigation announced that Olatoye had falsely claimed in federal paperwork that the city was inspecting apartments for lead paint.
"Our investigation into this matter is ongoing, and beyond that I can't talk about what we may find as we continue investigating this," DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said.
The city also hid the fact that the required inspections were not happening; after Olatoye became aware of the lapses, more than a year passed before she went public with the news.
Bronx City Councilman Ritchie Torres at the hearing: You've gone 15 months without telling the general public that your agency was out of compliance. Do you regret that?
Olatoye: In hindsight, our communication could have been more precise.
Public housing residents attended the packed hearing, including Sherron Paige, whose son, four-year-old son Kyan, has elevated lead levels. She is suing NYCHA.
"Just treat everybody fairly. Give us the repairs and stuff that we need living in housing," Paige said. "They treat us like second-class citizens. We don't get anything done."
De Blasio has so far defended Olatoye and argued she is part of the solution at the city's public housing authority.
Speaking on NY1 on Tuesday morning, Olatoye promised to improve NYCHA's policies moving forward.
"We're going to continue in our work to improve the quality of conditions in people's homes. 1 in 14 New Yorkers rely on us," Olatoye said. "Two, we will continue our inspection protocol to ensure that we're getting into apartments with children under the age of six. Three, we will make sure that our staff, as well as associated vendors, have the appropriate training."
Olatoye recently announced new reforms to NYCHA, including a new compliance department.