BY TRONE DOWD
Following a tumultuous tenure as the head of the nation’s largest public housing entity, New York City Housing Authority Chairwoman Shola Olatoye is stepping down from the post at the end of April.
Olatoye, who was appointed to the position in 2014, announced that she would resign from the position at City Hall this past Monday. She is to be replaced by Stan Brezenoff, who will act as interim-chairman until a permanent replacement is found. Brezenoff is a familiar name in New York City politics as he has served under Mayor Ed Koch, and most recently, under Bill de Blasio.
As NYCHA’s chairwoman, Olatoye introduced the “Next Generation NYCHA” plan in May 2015. The plan was meant to fix and preserve NYCHA properties for current residents, while making it appealing for future residents. But NYCHA was marred by scandal and controversy during Olatoye’s tenure. In January, the Department of Investigation alleged that the NYCHA leader lied about routine checks for lead paint at several developments that put children susceptible to poisoning at risk. The discovery led to elected officials—including Public Advocate Letitia James and Gov. Andrew Cuomo—calling for Olatoye’s resignation.
Despite the criticism, De Blasio stood by Olatoye. He did so again on Tuesday during a press conference at the Ocean Bay Houses in Far Rockaway.
“One of the reasons why I decided to make that investment [$3.7 billion in city funds towards public housing] was because we had a leader at NYCHA who had a plan and a vision for how to move the agency forward,” de Blasio said. “Shola Olatoye did not say this was an insurmountable problem—or this is too tough a job or that it would be difficult or that it was a dangerous mission. When I asked Shola to step into this role, she understood what the challengers were. She took on the challenge because she cared about the people that lived here.”
Olatoye said that she was “incredibly proud” of the work she was able to get done, citing speedy repair times, crime reduction, the launch of a major development program and her plan to bring NYCHA “into the 21st century.”
“It’s been an honor to serve the one in 14 New Yorkers who call public housing home,” she said. “I leave this role secure in the knowledge that we created a path for a stronger and safer NYCHA in the years ahead as the de Blasio Administration moves forward with NextGen.”
Her replacement, a native of East New York, has served numerous posts around the city over the last 30 years.
Most recently, Brezenoff served as the interim CEO of New York City Health + Hospitals in 2016. He has also been the executive director of the Port Authority, served as first deputy mayor from 1985 to 1990 and led the Department of Employment in 1978. De Blasio joked that the 80-year-old city veteran is “failing at retirement” due to his reliability and proven track record.
“He is as good as it gets,” de Blasio said.
Brezenoff said that he would give his all to help guide NYCHA towards success in the months to come.
“This is one of the toughest jobs in America. Under Mayor de Blasio and Chair Olatoye, NYCHA has faced down enormous challenges, launched an enormous turnaround effort and improved the lives of residents,” Brezenoff said. “I’m committed to working with residents, finding new solutions and making progress that people will see and feel in their communities.”