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Can new chairwoman bring NYCHA back from the brink?

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CONEY ISLAND, Brooklyn (PIX11) -- This isn’t how you’d expect New York City’s biggest landlord to supply heat to its tenants.

But this is what it’s come to at several public housing buildings in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

Big box trailers, now set up as temporary boiler units.

“Yes, I was expecting that we would have the regular boiler system back. And uh, we don’t,” said long time NYCHA tenant Margo Brackette.

And tenants like Margo Brackette wonder whether these temporary boilers will hold up for the third consecutive winter.

The units were installed shortly after Hurricane Sandy tore through Coney Island and the rest of the city in October, 2012.

So while seniors at the O’Dwyer Houses sing and dance to the oldies, they’re also quietly wondering if they’ll be warm this winter.

In fact, a permanent heating solution at this and neighboring housing developments is just one of the many problems we’ve documented on PIX11 News in New York City Public housing over the last year and half.

“When I first moved in housing in the sixties, it was wonderful. I come from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was a step up from the old cold water flats,” said Brackette.

Margo, a New York City public housing tenant for the last 44 of her 66 years, has just about seen it all.

“I’m saying that this Band-Aid is pulled back, and the sore is still up underneath. This is every week that either the water is off, or we just have cold water, or we have brown water,” said Brackette.

Margo told PIX11 we didn’t just catch her on a good day.

“You just caught us in a matter of good hours,” said Brackette.

It’s now Shola Olatoye’s job, as the newly appointed NYCHA chairwoman, to fix this mess.

“The short term financial issues are real. But it’s really about the long term financial health of the organization. The challenges are huge , as you’ve documented well, here on this program. And so that’s why I think it’s so critical there’s a real conversation about the future of the housing authority,” said Chairwoman Olatoye.

This is Olatoye’s first broadcast television interview since Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed her to the job in February.

Like her predecessor, former NYCHA chairman John Rhea, Olatoye has experience in the banking industry.

“Our budget deficit for 2014 is about $77 million,” said Olatoye.

But unlike John Rhea, this 39-year-old wife and mother of two also has a wealth of experience in the world of affordable housing.

She now faces several monumental challenges, including the ongoing recovery from damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy, even after insurance reimbursement payments.

“This is a $1.8 billion expense to the New York City Housing Authority, which clearly we did not have the resources to address,” said Olatoye.

Olatoye says she’s also streamlining operations and asking - more aggressively - for additional funding from outside sources.

“And that’s why the model has to change. The things that we have come to do for the past eighty years, you know what? We can’t afford to do some of those things anymore,” said Olatoye.

It’s all part of a new initiative called “Next-Generation-NYCHA” which also includes the effort to continue to whittling down a backlog of 85,000  open maintenance repairs.

If you recall, that backlog stood at an astonishing 400,00+ repairs when Mayor Bloomberg announced push to erase it in the final year of his term.

Aside from painting and speckling, there are other worries, specifically about security, and surveillance cameras.

Things came to a head earlier this year after two children were randomly and savagely stabbed in an Brooklyn elevator.

Six-year-old P.J. Avitto died of his injuries.

NYCHA officials say crews have already installed 28t of the 49 surveillance camera systems at various housing developments, adding crews are on schedule to complete the installations by the end of the year.

Olatoye says the administration also found new funding to install almost 200 light towers in the city’s most violent housing developments.

“The only way that they’re gonna believe there’s something different, is if they feel it, and if they see it. And so, ya know this summer, people saw the lights. They saw the community centers. They saw people coming into their apartment and fixing things in a more timely manner. They saw their grounds being kept up. It’s something that - you win people over day by day,” said Olatoye.

Margo Brackette - who’s seen NYCHA administrators come and go over her four decades in public housing - remains patient for now.

“I pay my rent like anyone else who lives outside NYCHA and they expect admirable service. We get rent raises just like everybody else. In fact, NYCHA rents today are higher than they’ve ever been,” said Brackette.

Olatoye added, “People have said the same thing to me. ‘I’ve been here for 50 years, and I’ve seen lots of things happen - come and go. What are you gonna do differently?' I give people my honest assessment and I say let’s let the numbers stand for themselves. So let’s check-in in 3 months, let’s check in in 6 months.”