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Queens Chronicle

Mayor makes big changes at NYCHA

Major shake-ups at housing agencies followed by $52.5 million cash infusion

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Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:20 am, Thu Feb 27, 2014.

In the last two weeks, Mayor de Blasio has taken two giant steps toward fulfilling his campaign promise to change the makeup of and the culture at the beleaguered New York City Housing Authority.

Two weeks ago it was the appointment of new managers in three key housing positions, the most prominent being Shola Olatoye, tapped to replace the embattled former NYCHA Chairman John Rhea.

Then last Wednesday, during his preliminary budget presentation, de Blasio said he is redirecting $52.5 million into this year’s NYCHA budget to deal with the backlog of hundreds of thousands of repair and maintenance complaints.

Like Rhea, appointed by former Mayor Bloomberg, Olatoye has roots in the banking sector. But unlike her predecessor, she has an extensive background in the financing and development of affordable and low-cost housing.

De Blasio also appointed Vicki Been as commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and Gary Rodney as president of the Housing Development Corp., which is the financing arm of the city’s housing program.

Cecil House was retained as general manager of NYCHA.

De Blasio campaigned on a promise to fundamentally change the relationship with the more than 400,000 residents in the city’s nearly 180,000 city-owned units.

His aim is to create and preserve 200,000 new units of affordable housing in the next 10 years.

“We are going to take a new approach to this crisis that holds nothing back,” de Blasio said when the quartet was introduced at a press conference. “From doing more to protect tenants in troubled buildings, to innovating new partnerships with the private sector to forging a new relationship with our NYCHA communities, every decision we make will focus on maximizing the affordability of our neighborhoods.”

Rhea, who had been NYCHA chairman for more than four years, came increasingly under fire beginning in 2012 after the Daily News ran a series of articles detailing a seemingly dysfunctional agency that had been sitting on more than $45 million dedicated for security cameras at high-crime housing projects; holding onto about $1 billion in federal housing money earmarked for upkeep and repairs; and allowing the accumulation of about 420,000 backlogged repair requests throughout the city.

Rhea resigned in December after Mayor-elect de Blasio made it unmistakably clear that he would be removed.

De Blasio touted Olatoye’s “exceptional career in community development finance, housing advocacy and real estate” in a biography provided by his office.

Olatoye worked most recently as a vice president of Enterprise Community Partners, a national nonprofit that builds and preserves affordable housing.

She is a former vice president and senior community development manager for HSBC Bank. She also was director of community outreach at Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc., which once sued the state to secure more funding for city schools.

House, who joined NYCHA in August 2012, is credited with designing a plan that has cut into the backlog of maintenance requests, and reducing the average for most routine repairs to 10 days, down from 134 in January 2013. The waiting period for so-called skilled repairs has dropped from 249 days to 48.

Been comes to the city from academia. She most recently served as director of New York University’s Furman Center on Real Estate and Urban Policy. She also has taught at the NYU School of Law. She also has taught public policy at the NYU Wagner Graduate school of Public Service.

Rodney had served as executive vice president for development at Omni New York LLC, a developer of affordable housing in New York State.

The week after their appointment, de Blasio announced his intention to bolster NYCHA’s repair budget by $52.5 million.

The money will be taken from a line item by which NYCHA pays the NYPD for services above baseline policing. The amount is the remainder of $70 million budgeted to be paid to the NYPD this fiscal year, which ends on June 30.

The annual payment began in 1995 when the old Housing Police and Transit Police departments were merged into the NYPD.

In his budget speech last Wednesday, de Blasio said the NYPD budget would be made whole this year, with the $52.5 million to be replaced with other money from unspecified sources.

In a subsequent exchange of emails this week, de Blasio’s press office confirmed that the NYPD budget would be made whole, but repeatedly declined to specify just where the administration intends to find $52.5 million with only five months remaining in the fiscal year.

“City funds.” was the full text of an email from de Blasio spokesperson Marti Adams. Adams also would not specify when asked twice just when the money would appear on the NYPD’s books.

She stated that the NYPD was made aware of de Blasio’s intentions prior to his budget speech on Feb. 12.

The mayor is required via the City Charter to present his executive budget to the City Council on or before April 26.

The budget then is reviewed by the Council and the borough presidents, and also is subject to public hearings.

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