Dissatisfied with the pace of repairs at public housing developments, a group representing city churches and tenants today called on NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye to resign.
When it comes to being critical of mayors, governors and those we entrust to serve the public, CSS is not reluctant to go on record. Indeed, we have been one of NYCHA’s fiercest critics over the years. But calls for Ms. Olatoye to step down are out of order. They fail to take into account the dire state of public housing when she took charge a year ago and the changes that have occurred under her watch.
Ms. Olatoye has just launched an ambitious 10-year NextGeneration NYCHA Plan that takes a hard look at the issues the Authority faces and the directions in which it needs to move to address them. Moreover, she deserves credit for engaging residents in the planning of their communities and rebuilding trust.
Most importantly, she has played a key role in getting the city (and the state), after years of disinvestment in public housing, to reinvest in NYCHA and its residents. In a major tectonic shift away from exclusive reliance on Washington, the Mayor ended $100 million in annual NYCHA payments to the city for police services and PILOT property tax payments. The city has committed $300 million for major repairs in its capital budget over the next three years; the state committed $100 million this year. In addition, the city will take over responsibility for all NYCHA-managed senior and community centers. These changes substantially increase NYCHA’s limited operating and capital resources, enabling it to better address repairs and maintenance needs.
While continuing resident complaints about the pace of repairs are justified, independent indicators suggest that by 2014, the accelerating deterioration observed since 2008 leveled off. CSS’s Unheard Third survey found that residents registered fewer serious problems in 2014 than they had in 2012. For example in 2014, 39 percent of residents reported serious problems with “working elevators, door locks, buzzers, or intercoms,” compared with 52 percent in 2012. Thirty-eight percent reported serious problems with “heating, leaks, or major repairs,” compared with 49 percent in 2012, just two years earlier. CSS analysis of the 2014 NYC Housing and Vacancy Survey data finds the same leveling off after years of rapid deterioration. In 2014, 35 percent of NYCHA households reported three or more deficiencies, compared to 34 percent in 2011.
Clearly, much remains to be done to restore decent living conditions to residents. But the evidence suggests that special efforts to address repairs in 2013 late in the Bloomberg administration through the first months of Chair Olatoye’s tenure have managed, at the least, to stem worsening conditions.
NYCHA is known as “a hard ship to turn around.” There is much to be done. Chair Olatoye’s record to date merits our confidence that she should remain steadfastly at the helm.