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NYCHA Head Testifies Before City Council

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Amid mounting tension between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo about her agency, New York City Housing Authority Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye testified before the City Council Wednesday.

Tenants have long complained about their living conditions, and now elected officials are demanding answers about how the agency plans to fix ongoing problems.

Olatoye took on tough criticism about the crisis in public housing.

"The fact that you hear nightmare stories. That's how people live every single day, and we have to change that," said Council Member Vanessa Gibson.

Cuomo has been critical of NYCHA and de Blasio for the city's handling of housing issues, and has even called for a management overhaul.

Olatoye dodged questions from CBS2's Hazel Sanchez.

"What do you think about the governor asking for an independent monitor?" Sanchez asked.

Olatoye offered no reply.

Just yesterday, City Council Speaker Cory Johnson was in Albany seeking a NYCHA bailout. Part of the deal would let NYCHA fix heat and hot water issues quickly, a process called "Design Build" - and an emergency declaration that would empower an outside monitor to make sure state aid is properly spent.

Cuomo spoke about his his Tuesday meeting with City Council members, urging them to come up with ways the state can help speed up housing repairs.

"The NYCHA residents have organized. They've started a lawsuit. My position is very clear: I stand with the NYCHA residents," Cuomo said.

On Monday, Cuomo saw the poor conditions at the Andrew Jackson Houses firsthand, and said he was ready to make an emergency declaration.

Asked about the governor's appearance, Olatoye deflected.

"I think instead of focusing on press conferences, the key thing here is those conditions are unacceptable," she said.

Cuomo said he would come up with his own solution if the City Council can't come with their own plan in two weeks.

NYCHA says if Cuomo makes an emergency declaration, it would only speed up the process to get projects done by six days.

Olatoye hailed the Assembly's decision to pass Design Build, but said there is no replacement for decreased funding from the federal government. Olatoye said de Blasio has committed an "unprecedented level of resources" to NYCHA.

"City funds are not a replacement for HUD funding, so we must continue advocating for capitol investment from the federal government. Considering the massive needs, any cuts to capitol spending is unacceptable and has a severe and immediate impact on our residents," she said. "Recently there has been a lot of attention on ways the state can further step up to further improve the quality of housing at NYCHA. The Assembly is already leading the way by including $200 million in new capitol funding to match the city's contribution and passing Design Build this week. The city has sought Design Build authority for years. It matters because it can shave a year or more off time it takes to replace much-needed heating systems at NYCHA. Moreover, it would be helpful for the leadership at the state to release the $200 million allocated to NYCHA in last year's budget, commit $200 million in new capitol dollars in this year's state budget, and to sign Design Build for all NYCHA projects into law."

On Tuesday, State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said that Olatoye should go.

"Anyone who is in top management at NYCHA should be out, summarily dismissed," he told CBS2's Marcia Kramer Wednesday. "Because I don't know how you can come and ask for more money when it's such an existing debacle."

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