The City Council wants beleaguered New York City Housing Authority Chairwoman Shola Olatoye in the hot seat talking about cold apartments Tuesday — but she might be too busy doing her civic duty, the Daily News has learned.
While Council Speaker Corey Johnson said he “absolutely” expects Olatoye to testify, the authority says she has jury duty.
“The chair will first answer her juror summons on Tuesday; if excused, she plans to join the hearing,” NYCHA spokeswoman Jasmine Blake said.
Olatoye will seek a postponement at court Tuesday morning, a spokeswoman said, to enable her to attend the hearing, which starts at 10 a.m. Other NYCHA senior executives will also be on hand to testify about the heat.
The “140,000 residents who are without heat and hot water want answers from top NYCHA leadership to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future,” Council Speaker Johnson told The News in an interview. “The chair must be there. And her top management must be there as well.”
The hearing comes after weeks of NYCHA’s boilers struggling to produce heat during frigid temperatures at developments across the city.
It also comes on the heels of a lead paint scandal that saw many of Olatoye’s top colleagues depart the authority.
Despite a growing chorus calling for her resignation, Mayor de Blasio has staunchly defended Olatoye, who falsely certified to the federal government that lead inspections had happened after knowing that they had not been done in years.
“Failure to attend would send the message that NYCHA is an absentee landlord,” Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), who will co-chair the hearing, said. “It is unimaginable to me that a chairperson would blow off a City Council hearing in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.”
While the hearing is focused on the heating crisis, it’s likely pols will also question her about the lead paint debacle — which she was previously summoned to the Council to explain.
The Department of Investigation found that Olatoye did not tell the truth about whether certain inspectors had proper lead paint certifications at that hearing, The News previously reported.
“I think the mismanagement of the housing authority is on trial,” Torres said. “This hearing is part of a broader investigation of the inner workings of NYCHA. So I see it as a journey rather than a destination.”
Torres will co-chair the hearing with Councilwoman AlickaAmpry-Samuels (D-Brooklyn), who chairs the public housing committee. It could offer a revealing look at the authority’s longtime infrastructure woes — Johnson said the Council requested and received reams of data on boiler failures.
“It’s been a lot for the Council to analyze and parse. We have had a team of 10 staff members here at the Council working around the clock, literally every day on preparing for this hearing,” Johnson said. “And we are going to ask questions about the trust that residents should have in the management at NYCHA and demanding even greater accountability in the future.”
Johnson, the body’s newly minted speaker, said he intends to be present for the entire hearing, which he expected could run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“I’ll be there the whole time, because I’m committed to not just listening to and asking questions of NYCHA management but hearing from tenants who have been affected,” Johnson said.
A week ahead of the hearing, de Blasio rolled out a $ 200 million plan to keep those tenants warm with new boilers — but work won’t begin until July and won’t be finished until 2021.
“NYCHA residents do not have four winters to wait for reliable heating systems and reliable boilers,” Johnson said, adding that the boilers would only help 10% of NYCHA’s population.
“What’s more important than even the $ 200 million and the speeding up of the $ 200 million is getting to the root of the endemic problem that plagues NYCHA, which is failing infrastructure, and ensuring that the management positions at NYCHA are filled with qualified, capable, professional people.”
But de Blasio has bristled at the idea the work can be done faster — insisting “people should not be promised a rose garden.”
Testimony from tenants, Johnson said, would show the people behind the statistics.
“Sometimes I think these numbers become abstract and academic,” Johnson said. “And the human face of senior citizens and children and families who have had to endure a variety of unacceptable mishaps at NYCHA, they are probably the most important voice to hear in this process.”