Johnson to discuss HUD

STEUBENVILLE – U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, will meet Thursday afternoon with city officials, community leaders and representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to discuss public housing issues in the city.

Ben Keeler, district press secretary for Johnson’s Marietta office, said the meeting will be closed to the press.

“At the request of HUD, the meeting was closed to the media in order to have an open, honest and productive discussion.” Keeler explained.

A press conference has been scheduled following the one-hour meeting.

The private meeting is a followup to a June 11, 2012, meeting to discuss shooting incidents at public housing sites in the city that included Johnson, several city officials and Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham.

First Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto said he wrote to Johnson requesting the congressman return to Steubenville to follow up on last year’s meeting.

Johnson will be joined at the meeting by Mayor and Acting City Manager Domenick Mucci; DiLoreto who also serves on the Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority; JMHA Executive Director Joe Costantini; JMHA board of commissioners Chairman Les Zapor; police Chief Bill McCafferty; retired Drug Enforcement Agency agent Jim Mavromatis, who conducted a security study for the JMHA; Franciscan University of Steubenville Director of Community Development Mike Florak; Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce President Sue Hershey; Business Community Representative Geary Teramana; and JMHA tenant representative Liz Smith.

Also expected to attend the meeting are two HUD officials and district director for Johnson’s office, Jackie Stewart.

According to the meeting agenda, Johnson is expected to ask if there have been any improvements since his June 2012 visit.

Johnson also is expected to discuss ongoing issues, including drug problems, shootings and residents’ complaints.

The June 2012 visit prompted Johnson to write a letter to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan citing Costantini’s concerns “over certain statutes, regulations and policies, he sees inhibiting the agency’s ability to deter the incidence of drug related and other criminal activity in public housing properties.”

“I’m concerned that this is happening at the expense of the truly needy law abiding citizens, such as the elderly and unemployed veterans. I’m also concerned that the taxpayers of Steubenville are seeing their tax dollars used against them thereby negatively affecting their property values and their safety,” Johnson stated in his letter.

Johnson was asked by city and county officials to initiate a congressional investigation into alleged drug activities, murders, shootings and domestic assaults in local public housing properties as well as federal subsidized Section 8 housing.

“A federal investigation started today when I came in here. We will review the documentation and we will determine how best to proceed. There is a pretty serious problem and it is not a short list of issues. When you have local officials asking for help it is a pretty serious matter. We will take appropriate action,” Johnson said at the June 2012 meeting.

“I am a results oriented guy. We need to give serious consideration to these issues. I will stand with and beside these local officials on this issue. My office will be involved. And there is a sense of urgency surrounding these issues. We will be moving forward on this,” Johnson said following the 2012 the meeting with city and county officials.

Following several public comments regarding the June meeting, city officials began meeting with JMHA representatives twice a month to exchange information.

Jimmy Davis, a public housing revitalization specialist, called those meetings, “a good first step” and said he reviewed the JMHA policies and regulations following the June 26, 2012, request from Johnson for an investigation into alleged criminal activity in public housing units in Jefferson County.