City Council grills NYCHA over heating problems

The City Council hearing on the NYCHA heating crisis featured one stunning revelation after another. After weeks of fuzzy math and conflicting information about how many residents suffered in the cold, NYCHA admitted under oath the number was more than 300,000—a population roughly the size of the entire city of Newark.

NYCHA Chair/CEO Shola Olatoye sat and listened as Council Member Ritchie Torres blasted NYCHA's explanations for why hundreds of thousands of residents went without heat. He said that the buck stops at the top.

"NYCHA has a chairperson whose credibility has sustained irreparable damage. She has knowingly filed a false certification with the federal government," Torres said. "She has submitted false testimony to the City Council—not on one but two occasions."

The hearing room was packed with NYCHA residents and their leaders, who were the first to testify. Douglas Houses Resident Association president Carmen Quinones called NYCHA management "incapable of protecting our wellbeing."

Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel dropped a shocking statistic.

"As of January 22, the number of public housing residents who have experienced a heating outage during this heating season was 323,098 residents," Ampry-Samuel said.

Under oath, NYCHA official Cathy Pennington confirmed that number.

Newly inaugurated Council Speaker Corey Johnson put a simple request to the NYCHA chair.

"Just apologize," Johnson said. "Just say, 'We are sorry.'"

Olatoye responded that she has said that the interruptions in service and the agency's performance are "unacceptable."

Other testimony revealed that NYCHA's use of technology was terribly outdated and uncoordinated. And both Johnson and Torres said this isn't just about finding out about what went wrong, it is also about finding out about how to make it right.

Speaking at a separate Q-and-A session, Mayor Bill de Blasio said NYCHA's heating issues have no simple fix. He said you can't just call a boiler company and order a bunch of boilers. He said the boilers need to be custom-built to the specifications of each development.