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Dec 6, 2017
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BRONX NEWS: NYCHA chair struggles to explain lead-paint lies at interrogation


Facing a hostile City Council Tuesday, NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye bobbed and weaved and suffered memory lapses as she struggled to explain why she’d falsely claimed the agency had performed all its required lead-paint inspections when she knew it had not.


During three hours-plus of sometimes acerbic interrogation, the embattled chair was forced to admit that multiple failures have caused NYCHA to reexamine the entire scope of its lead-paint problem.


She revealed that in the last year, untrained staff have “cleaned up” thousands of apartments with lead paint that house children under 6.


All have to be redone.

NYCHA tenant and mom furious with de Blasio’s lead-paint lies


She had to upgrade the number of NYCHA apartments that require annual checks from 4,200 to 8,900 “out of an abundance of caution” because some may have been improperly exempted from inspection.


But much of the inquiry focused on why in October 2016 she falsely certified to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development that NYCHA was performing all required lead-paint inspections.


“There was no intention to mislead or lie to the regulator,” she explained, adding, “Signing the form at that time was a mistake.”


While Olatoye flatly denied telling Mayor de Blasio or consulting with his top lawyer, Zachary Carter, about her decision to do that, she was less explicit about her conversations with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen.

City Hall claims they didn’t know about NYCHA lead paint lies


Asked about Glen, she replied, “I meet regularly with the deputy mayor…but I don’t recall a conversation about this certification.”


Later, a mayoral spokeswoman, Olivia Lapeyrolerie, said, “The chair didn’t notify anyone at City Hall about this.”


Throughout it all in the second row sat Red Hook Houses tenant Sherron Paige, mother of 4-year-old Kyan Dickerson, whose blood-lead level is elevated.


As the testimony unfolded, she wiped a tear from her eye.


“From NYCHA’s neglect of my apartment, my child is now suffering with delayed speech and behavioral issues,” she told the committee.


Mayor “de Blasio’s comment that this isn’t affecting children is wrong.”


Questions about NYCHA’s ability to monitor and abate lead paint first surfaced in March 2016 when word emerged the Manhattan U.S. Attorney was investigating whether the agency had been misleading about its efforts to address multiple apartment issues, including lead.


That investigation is ongoing.


At the time, de Blasio claimed at a press conference that NYCHA had an “aggressive” lead-paint initiative and Olatoye told a council hearing the authority was in compliance.


Within weeks, Olatoye told the mayor that NYCHA was not in compliance with a local law requiring annual inspections for apartments with children under 6.


Soon after, she told him NYCHA was also violating federal regulations requiring the inspection of some 55,000 apartments with presumed lead paint.


The mayor and NYCHA withheld that information from tenants, the public and the council for more than a year.


“In hindsight, our communications could have been better,” Olatoye admitted.


During much of the hearing, Council members blasted Olatoye for a persistent lack of transparency and a deliberate effort to withhold damaging information.


“I am deeply disappointed in the testimony today,” said Public Housing Committee Chairman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx). “My confidence in this agency is shaken by this testimony.”


Torres called the hearing after a Nov. 14 report by the city Department of Investigation made public NYCHA’s pattern of false certification that all was well with its inspections for lead paint.


Subsequent to that, the Daily News revealed how de Blasio sat on the damning information about NYCHA’s non-compliance for more than a year.


The News also exposed the fact that for years, NYCHA workers without required training had routinely inspected and cleaned thousands of lead-tainted apartments.


A source familiar with this effort said that NYCHA has no true picture of the scope of the problem and has potentially put tenants in danger by allowing them to move into toxic apartments that had falsely been deemed “clean.”


NYCHA’s longtime use of untrained workers for lead-paint inspections and cleanup dominated much of the hearing.


Under questioning, NYCHA admitted that in the last year, staff without the required training did “paint correction” on 2,363 apartments with lead paint where children under 6 live.


As a result, the city is now offering to test the blood-lead levels of all children living in those units.


Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio said the number of children with high-lead levels in the city has fallen each year, but she admitted that in 2016, only 80% of children age 3 were tested while no one tracks if children 7 through 10 are tested at all.


For months the authority has said 55,000 apartments with presumed lead paint must be inspected, but on Tuesday even that number was up for grabs. Olatoye admitted for the first time that in prior years, some apartments may have been incorrectly “exempted” from lead paint testing.


And DOI Commissioner Mark Peters, who detailed his report’s findings, made clear that the story isn’t over.


When Torres voiced concern about NYCHA’s use of untrained workers for lead-paint cleanups, Peters replied, “It is a valid question. It is part of our ongoing investigation.”

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NYCHA chair struggles to explain lead-paint lies at interrogation

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