HUD delays public meeting

STEUBENVILLE – A scheduled meeting set for Thursday afternoon involving U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials and local public housing representatives has been delayed at the request of the HUD acting Cleveland field office of director.

Ray Keyser still will attend a Thursday night meeting hosted by the Hilltop Community Development Corp. at 7 p.m. at Trinity Medical Center East to discuss public housing issues.

Keyser sent a letter dated Monday to Johnson requesting the Thursday afternoon meeting with stakeholders be delayed for 30 to 60 days citing, “several operational issues at the Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority have very recently come to light.”

A copy of the letter was obtained by the Herald-Star.

“In particular we have learned that JMHA has fallen short on certain performance metrics used by HUD to gauge the effectiveness of a public housing agency’s financial management and leasing activities. These issues relate only peripherally to the safety and security concerns we have been addressing. They are nonetheless likely to generate significant public discussion. To that end, JMHA’s board and management team need to be afforded time to formulate a plan to assure the community and HUD that these more recent issues will be expeditiously resolved. We have asked JMHA to commence that process and will be providing technical assistance as needed. Under these circumstances, however, I am fearful it will be difficult to maintain a productive focus on safety and security issues if we meet as originally scheduled. The delay will permit JMHA’s board time to hold the meetings it needs for these purposes,” Keyser said in his Monday letter.

“I am cognizant the public may have additional questions about these operational deficiencies. In addition, your office has forwarded to me several letters from tenants raising concerns that similarly extend beyond safety and security issues. Constructive dialogue with JMHA tenants and the broader community on these matters is clearly warranted. To that end, I intend to work with JMHA to ensure that additional tenant meetings, townhalls, and similar events are held in the interim,” continued Keyser.

Johnson spokesman Ben Keeler said Tuesday the congressional office “has received a tremendous amount of letters and phone calls from the community regarding the public housing issues. We have made progress since we started meeting with the community stakeholders, including the HUD officials last year and we are going to continue the meetings.”

“We are looking forward to addressing the concerns raised in the community and we plan to meet again later this spring,” added Keeler.

JMHA Executive Director Joe Costantini said the performance metrics issue raised by HUD pertains to the occupancy scoring by HUD.

“We were two-hundredths of a point below a passing score and we plan to appeal their score because we believe there are reasons why we should have passed,” said Costantini.

“HUD greatly appreciates your efforts to ensure federal housing assistance is utilized as effectively as possible in the city of Steubenville. I look forward to a highly productive meeting with you and our other partners in this endeavor later this spring,” concluded Keyser.

Johnson announced a federal investigation into alleged criminal activities in public housing and Section 8 subsidized rental housing during a June 2012 meeting with Steubenville and Jefferson County officials.

“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,” said Johnson following the 2012 meeting.

The congressman started holding quarterly stakeholder meetings in Steubenville to focus on the public housing and Section 8 housing issues.

“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 at the June 2012 meeting.