Our Time Press Exclusive Interview with New NYCHA Boss Shola Olatoye
By Stephen Witt
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pick to head the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) public housing faced several hundred residents of public housing in City Council member Laurie Cumbo’s district this week at the Ingersoll Community Center on Myrtle Avenue.
The public housing developments in Cumbo’s district include Whitman, Farragut, Ingersoll, Lafayette Gardens and Atlantic Terminal.
Upon Cumbo’s request, Olatoye said she submitted a request for funding to keep both the Farragut and Lafayette Gardens Senior Centers open in the next fiscal year.
Olatoye and her staff also vowed to work with residents in the rightsizing policy, which is seeing many senior residents taken out of larger apartments and given small apartments if their family size diminishes.
Her staff also said there are about 130 vacant apartments in Ingersoll that are still being renovated. The apartments will go to city residents on waiting lists for public housing as they become available, her staff said.
Following the meeting, Olatoye agreed to the following e-mail interview with Our Time Press.
Now that you’ve been on the job seven weeks, have you identified three or four priorities, and how do you plan on addressing them?
When I was appointed chair and CEO of the New York City Housing Authority by Mayor de Blasio, I outlined three main objectives. The first is to reset the relationship with our residents. I strongly believe that residents play an important role at NYCHA. The key to our success at NYCHA is to earn residents’ trust and to continue to strengthen our relationship with them. Together, we can build a better NYCHA. During the past couple of weeks, I have embarked on a listening tour to do precisely that, hear from our residents directly on how we best can achieve our goals. I’ve also had the privilege to participate in various town hall meetings, where I’ve had the chance to hear and learn from our residents. I will continue to visit developments throughout the city and engage with our residents, staff as well as all of our stakeholders–elected officials and community advocates and organizations so that we can further strengthen NYCHA.
Secondly, I will focus on the core business of NYCHA, which is being a landlord. NYCHA’s mission is to provide decent affordable housing and access to social services to the more than 630,000 people who call NYCHA their home. We will work to keep our buildings safe, complete repairs in a timely manner and ensure capital projects keep our buildings in good shape. In spite of our many challenges, I am optimistic that together we can build a new NYCHA that engages our residents and staff. Already, we are seeing improvements. Resident quality of life is improving as a result of reduced maintenance and repair backlogs and capital infrastructure projects are underway across the city to repair and modernize our buildings.
My third objective is to ensure the preservation and development of public housing, but only after we address the first two objectives. We will work on a plan to green and retrofit our buildings in order to make them more sustainable. We will create a thoughtful and practical development plan that benefits residents, reconnects our buildings to their communities and contributes to the mayor’s affordable housing plan through a collaborative and disciplined approach.
There were some complaints last night about the Section 3 program which mandates job training and job opportunities for NYCHA residents. What is your plan and/or goals to expand upon this program and what are some current statistics regarding Section 3?
NYCHA residents are the bedrock of our communities. We know that workforce training and jobs help our families to advance economically. Our Office of Resident Economic Empowerment & Sustainability (REES) implements programs, policies and collaborations that are designed to support NYCHA residents to increase their income and assets.
REES works across the agency to leverage jobs through a variety of initiatives including HUD’s Section 3 mandate — connecting residents with direct hiring opportunities as well as positions with NYCHA contractors.
To advance Section 3 and other NYCHA-generated placements, NYCHA established the NYCHA Resident Training Academy (NRTA) to prepare residents for Section 3 jobs and careers. The NRTA began in the fall of 2010. Since its inception, the NRTA has offered training in Construction, Janitorial and Pest Control; training over 1000 NYCHA residents with over 90% of graduates obtaining job placement.
In addition to Section 3, NYCHA hosts eight Jobs-Plus sites at 20 developments which have placed a total of 968 residents in jobs. In addition to getting connected to employment opportunities, Jobs-Plus participants experience an average earnings gain of 16 percent. The Jobs-Plus program is part of the city’s Young Men’s Initiative.
NYCHA is also focused on connecting residents to job opportunities that exist through the larger city’s workforce system where federal and other workforce resources are directed. To advance this, NYCHA has implemented a place-base Zone Model wherein residents are connected to workforce development services offered by community-based organizations and sister agencies that lead to employment. Key to this is also the citywide expansion of the Jobs-Plus program that which through an annual investment from the city brings employment resources to 23 NYCHA developments as part of the Young Men’s Initiative.
Since 2011, we have hired 1,534 caretakers, including 970 residents. We hired 99 painter apprentices – most of whom are residents – with City Council funds. Through a variety of initiatives, we facilitated a total of more than 2,000 job placements for our residents in just the past year.
You had mentioned a reset about former Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to sell some existing NYCHA property to raise much-needed operating capital. What kinds of ideas is NYCHA considering to raise capital? Does NYCHA have any plans to sell or lease any NYCHA property and why?
We will create a thoughtful and practical development plan that benefits residents, reconnects our buildings to their communities and contributes to the mayor’s affordable housing plan through a collaborative and disciplined approach.