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NYCHA Head Gives It To Residents Straight, Says Agency Doesn't Have Resources To Do What Needs To Be Done

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There is grim news for tenants of public housing.

The New York City Housing Authority may have turned over a new leaf and vowed to make desperately needed repairs, but it doesn't have the cash and will have to "triage" the fixes.

CBS2's Marcia Kramer spoke to the new boss of the agency on Thursday.

Community leaders are calling for action after 820 children under 6 living in NYCHA units tests high for level of lead. (credit: CBS2)

The bathroom is indescribable, layers of paint fall into the bathtub. There's no top on the toilet and there's a pipe so rusty that layers of crud hang off and fall on people. Bathrooms and kitchens like this abound in NYCHA's 170,000 apartments, but the agency's new boss admits only a fraction will be remodeled in the next five years.

"With the money in hand, I imagine we would be hard pressed to do more than 20 percent of the bathrooms and kitchens. Hard pressed," NYCHA president and CEO Stanley Brezenoff said.

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In a frank and candid interview, NYCHA's new boss said the agency is so strapped for cash it will have to "triage" repairs.

"We simply do not have in hand all the resources that would be necessary," Brezenoff said.

So after years of officials lying about lead paint inspections, papering over needed repairs and being sued by the federal government, the new NYCHA regime is trying a new strategy -- telling the truth. Mayor Bill de Blasio said residents "would much rather hear straight talk than hear empty promises."

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So here's more straight talk. With winter coming and fears of going without heat, there's only enough money to replace 182 of 2,097 boilers over the next three years, and 950 of more than 2,400 roofs over the next 10 years.

"We will identify the roofs, the boilers in most need of attention, thinking about the very difficult winter that we had last year," Brezenoff said. "But in an ideal world we would have hundreds of millions of dollars more."

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Because funds are limited for the big-ticket repair, Brezenoff said he is focusing on improving regular maintenance, response times and other things that the agency's regular staff of more than 3,000 can handle.

"I don't want to give the impression that we are powerless, that we cannot improve things. We can. But there is a limit imposed on us by the absence of resources," Brezenoff said.

"So, we're going to systematically go at the biggest problems. That is, you can like or dislike the word 'triage,' but I would say prioritization," de Blasio added.

Brezenoff told Kramer he's hoping the midterm elections bring some friendlier faces to Washington, officials who will allocate more money for NYCHA to help alleviate the cash crunch.

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