Corey Johnson says Olatoye was “not properly” briefed before council hearing

Says City is still figuring out what happened

Corey Johnson and Shola Olatoye
Corey Johnson and Shola Olatoye

The head of the New York City Housing Authority was “not properly briefed” before she provided incorrect information to the City Council about lead paint inspections, newly-elected Council Speaker Corey Johnson said Thursday.

It’s unclear what was said to chair Shola Olatoye before last month’s hearing, but the council is “piecing together” the mystery and plans to hold a hearing next week, Johnson told reporters following a New York Building Congress event at the Pierre Hotel. When pressed by a New York Post reporter on how this could’ve happened in the lead up to a high-profile hearing, Johnson could not provide more information.

“I think you’ve seen in the last two months some high-level NYCHA employees who are no longer at NYCHA. I think this instance is one of the reasons why there has been a change,” he said.

During the hearing, Olatoye told the council that NYCHA workers with the proper certification from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development inspected 4,200 apartments in 2016, the New York Daily News reported. But the Department of Investigation found that none of the NYCHA employees who conducted the inspections had the proper certifications.

The hearing followed a report released by the DOI in November, which found that for years NYCHA failed to inspect thousands of apartments for lead paint but falsely claimed that it had.

Three top executives have left NYCHA since the scandal broke in the fall. Johnson said General Manager Michael Kelly resigned but the other two — Brian Clark and Jay Krantz — likely left due to the hearing and “a variety of incidents where things were not being done property by top management.”

When asked if he expects any additional resignations, Johnson said he wasn’t sure. The Speaker noted that there’s no indication that those three executives left because of Olatoye’s testimony. He said he wasn’t prepared to make a judgment on whether or not Olatoye should step down.

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“I think Shola needs to ensure that she has qualified, competent, top-level management and mid-level management that does not make mistakes. That does not prep her to testify before the City Council with inaccurate information,” he said. “The problems at NYCHA run much deeper than one person. The endemic long-term systematic problems at NYCHA are much bigger than whoever the chair is.”

He noted that the lead paint issues predated de Blasio but asserted that it’s his administration’s responsibility to remedy the problem.

Johnson was the keynote speaker at the Building Congress’ annual meeting on Thursday. Before that, the organization announced that Milo Riverso, CEO of STV, will take over as chairman, succeeding Richard Cavallaro, the president and CEO of Skanska USA’s civil unit.

During his speech, Johnson rattled off a few actions he’s taken during his three and a half weeks in office, including the creation of a subcommittee to oversee the capital budget, in part, “to hold city agencies accountable” and to ensure that development projects are completed in a timely manner.  The council also launched a task force to examine how contracts are awarded to MWBE businesses in an effort to ensure that the city’s policies “make sense for business while ensuring that gains for our economy benefit all New Yorkers.”

Much of his speech focused on the importance of infrastructure and development. In perhaps a move to distance himself from his predecessor — who was often at odds with the real estate industry — Johnson made a point of extending an olive branch.

“Government can’t be an obstacle. It needs to be a partner. I come here today with an open hand, not a fist,” he said. “My politics are probably to the left of most of the people in this room’s politics. We will not agree on everything. But I want you to know that I’m pragmatic. I’m someone you can work with. Trump’s ideology, I shouldn’t say Trump. What overrides ideology is getting things done.”