Public housing meeting held with Johnson

STEUBENVILLE – Violent crime in public housing units in Steubenville is affecting enrollment at the Franciscan University of Steubenville and hampering attempts to attract new businesses into the city.

That was the assessment delivered by U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, Thursday afternoon after he emerged from a nearly 90-minute closed-door meeting with city officials and business leaders as well as four representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Cleveland field office.

“This issue has got to be addressed. We are seeing the impact on the business community and on enrollment at Franciscan University. There is very serious crime, but I come away from today’s meeting optimistic we can make a difference,” Johnson said during a press conference following the meeting at the city building.

“We had all of the stakeholders at the table here today, and we came away with several things we need to collaborate on as we move forward. We agreed to hold monthly meetings of the local stakeholders, and every three months I will return to hold a meeting with the stakeholders,” Johnson announced.

He also said community meetings will be held with public housing tenants.

“There are also plans to put in more security services. What I heard today is we are going to move forward aggressively,” said Johnson.

“I want to stress not all public housing residents are involved in crime. But, we have a few who are creating a very serious problem,” Johnson said.

His closed-door meeting Thursday afternoon came 14 months after Johnson met publicly with city officials during a round table discussion regarding crime in public housing and Section 8 housing assistance properties.

That meeting in June 2012 led to Johnson calling upon HUD to investigate alleged criminal activity in public housing units in Steubenville.

“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 said in a June 2012 letter to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

“Clearly there are problems, but we also think there are solutions, and we look forward to working with local leaders to help affect those solutions,” Ray Keyser, acting field office director of the HUD Cleveland office, said following Thursday’s meeting.

First Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto said he thought the, “meeting was very successful. Today was a good step forward. There were several ideas raised at the meeting, and we will make a strong effort resolving these issues if everyone does their job.”

DiLoreto had invited Johnson to return to Steubenville to discuss public housing crime issues.

The veteran city councilman has been a leading advocate in calls to reduce the number of public housing units and Section 8 housing assistance vouchers in the city.

Johnson was joined at the private meeting by Mayor and Acting City Manager Domenick Mucci; DiLoreto, who also serves on the Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority; Joe Costantini, JMHA executive director; Les Zapor, JMHA chairman; police Chief Bill McCafferty; Jim Mavromatis, a retired Drug Enforcement Agency agent who conducted a security study for the JMHA; Mike Florak, Franciscan University of Steubenville director of community development; Sue Hershey, president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce; Geary Teramana, a business community representative; and Liz Smith, JMHA tenant representative.

Also attending the meeting were Keyser and three other HUD officials and Jackie Stewart, district director for Johnson’s office.

Laura Sirilla, president of the Hilltop Community Development Corp., was not invited to participate in the meeting but waited in the lobby for a chance to talk with Johnson.

“I thanked Congressman Johnson for taking these issues seriously, and I reminded him the responsible homeowners are the most important stakeholders of all in the city,” Sirilla said.

“I would like to work with his office. He is open to ideas. And, I am very hopeful and will encourage my neighbors and the residents of LaBelle and Pleasant Heights we need to strike while the iron is hot,” stated Sirilla.