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City Council demands NYCHA chairwoman apologize for problems

Shola Olatoye was assailed by council members as she testified for five hours about the heat and hot water outages endured by 80 percent of housing authority residents.

New York City Housing Authority chairwoman Shola Olatoye,

New York City Housing Authority chairwoman Shola Olatoye, left, testified for five hours Tuesday at a New York City Council hearing Tuesday about her agency's many scandals, including lack of heat at many if its buildings. She is shown at a council hearing on lead-based paint inspections in NYCHA housing on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The embattled chairwoman of the New York City Housing Authority – buffeted by scandals over untested lead paint, false testimony and thousands of residents without heat in the winter cold – testified for nearly five hours before the City Council on Tuesday and did not heed calls by the chamber’s leader to apologize.

Shola Olatoye, who has overseen NYCHA for Mayor Bill de Blasio since 2014, appeared in the council chamber in the face of a succession of statistics lawmakers said they found troubling: 143,000 out of 175,000 units suffered heat or hot water outages, which means 320,000 out of about 400,000 residents, or 80 percent. The number of boiler technicians dropped to 248 last year from 391 in 2013.

The hearing, which began around 10 a.m. and lasted until after 4 p.m., was occasionally disrupted by residents who jeered Olatoye, at one point taunting her, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”

“Just say you’re sorry,” said Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan). “Just say it. I apologize.”

Olatoye, seated near the de Blasio administration’s top lawyer, Zachary Carter, did not apologize, and council member after council member assailed her over several matters, including testimony in December before lawmakers in which she wrongly testified that more than 4,000 lead-paint abatements had been completed by workers with the proper certifications.

Administration auditors from the Department of Investigation later said her testimony was incorrect: few had the proper certifications, and the abatements were mostly done by workers lacking correct credentials.

On Tuesday, Olatoye further evoked the ire of council members when she refused to name names, or to say whether anyone had been punished for providing her wrong information, saying instead that the agency was absolutely “having conversations about the integrity of our data.”

Carter, in a highly unusual personal appearance as a witness’s lawyer, interrupted to say that Olatoye had answered the question, though council members said repeatedly she hadn’t.

Olatoye’s testimony was in question early Tuesday morning; over the weekend, she told council staff that she had been summoned for jury duty at the same time as the scheduled hearing, a prospect that infuriated Johnson, who noted the hearing had long been in the works. The council speaker took to twitter Sunday to proclaim it “Unacceptable.”

“The Chair better be at our hearing on Tuesday morning,” he tweeted.

And an hour before the hearing, Olatoye tweeted a smiling photo of herself under the Roman classical style courthouse.

When a user questioned why she wasn’t at City Hall, she replied: “Relax. I’ll be there.”

Last year, Olatoye and NYCHA were scrutinized by the federal government for having signed a certification in 2016 attesting that inspections for lead paint in tens of thousands of units had been performed, though they hadn’t.

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