If you want to understand the real crisis facing New York City Public Housing, just ask a resident. Most New Yorkers don’t realize that one in fourteen New Yorkers live in public housing. We are the cops, teachers and nurses who make this City run. After years of public housing receiving no attention or money, from all levels of government, we have a Mayor who is investing in NYCHA and a real leader serving as Chair and CEO. Public housing conditions are finally improving and I have hope for the future.
Unfortunately, our progress is now threatened. Not by the manufactured hysteria about lead paint (all health experts can tell you there is no lead poisoning crisis at NYCHA), but by political ambition. The misguided outrage and concern threatens to create a real panic among residents, further stigmatizes residents who live in public housing and takes attention away from the real crisis facing NYCHA: the lack of funding and enormous infrastructure needs.
As the resident association leader for the largest public housing development in not just New York City, but all of North America, I understand intimately the challenges facing NYCHA. My job is to support the 6,629 residents who live at Queensbridge Houses. It’s not just a number to me though, those are hardworking families, veterans, seniors and kids. They are the lifeblood of New York City.
I remember the first time I met Chair Shola Olatoye at Queensbridge. Walking together around the development, she immediately started identifying problems, but she didn’t shy away from the problems, she also found solutions.
This week, the Department of Investigations released a report about lead based paint at NYCHA. I was surprised when it became a hot topic in the news given that NYCHA already disclosed this information publicly last summer. However, seizing a political opportunity – even at the expense of public housing residents – elected officials are taking this report out context and making ugly and inaccurate insinuations to score easy political points. They are conveniently leaving out critical health information that shows there is no lead poisoning crisis at NYCHA.
It is disturbing that anyone would take advantage of a complicated situation and risk creating panic among residents – my neighbors, my friends, my family. Well, I won’t have it. I not only like Chair Olatoye, but I respect her. She has the best interests for our community in her heart. As the leader of NYCHA, she has already done a tremendous amount of good.
NYCHA Chair Olatoye should absolutely not resign. Anyone who understands public housing in New York City can tell you that calling for the Chair’s resignation would solve nothing and would almost definitely make the problems we face worse. What we know is that Senior NYCHA officials withheld information from the Chair, when she learned of new problems she informed HUD and began working on a solution. I know the Chair and she will continue to follow up and find out what happened, who failed and she will rectify the problem. Anyone calling for her resignation is trying to find a scape goat.
Taking cheap political shots at the expense of public housing residents is bad enough in a normal political landscape, but with a President who hates public housing, it is shameful that New York City elected officials would risk our futures – the futures our children – just for a headline and a tweet.
Under Chair Olatoye, the Housing Authority is implementing a real plan to fix things, NextGen NYCHA, and it’s working. The Chair is working closely with resident leaders, engaging the community, rolling out new technology and making it easier to live at NYCHA; we can now do our income recertifications and pay rent online; staff is better trained and equipped to take care of residents; our developments are safer with high tech doors, new lighting and an improved culture. NextGen NYCHA takes into account a critical fact – each development has its own needs.
Life is better because of NextGen NYCHA and Chair Olatoye. NYCHA isn’t perfect, but as my mother used to say, there’s always room for improvement. Keep working.
To anyone who is piling on for media attention I have a simple message: If you can’t help the situation, stay out. Ask yourself, what am I doing for the NYCHA community? Real leaders will emerge shortly as we work together to find out what happened and how do we move forward.
This is our home. Me and my kids aren’t here to be used as a political prop. Come back to us when you have a real solution.
April Simpson is the Tenant Association president of Queensbridge Houses