STEUBENVILLE - The city's fair Housing practices commission set a tentative public meeting at the Fort Steuben Apartments for January to review what improvements have been made to the Section 8 rental facility.
Commission Chairperson Gloria Crossland reported Monday night she and several city administration officials met this month with the regional manager and assistant manager for the privately owned building, "and discussed a number of resident and city concerns."
"Probably the No. 1 issue was security in the building. But we also discussed rent amounts, cleaning problems and bed bugs," Crossland told the commission members.
Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi said the apartment management wants to work with City Police for background checks.
"The local background checks were always better. They are now looking at the City Police conducting background checks on current and future tenants. They are also looking at the possibility of tying their surveillance video cameras into the police system," added Petrossi.
But Commission member John Barnes objected to video surveillance idea and said, "it is asking a lot of our police department. That should be handled by the private security hired by the apartment owner. The apartment management should also face a timeline to correct their issues."
Petrossi suggested the commission wait until the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development complete a physical inspection of the apartment facility on North Fourth Street and conduct a management and occupancy review.
"The state of maintenance wasn't what it used to be when we held a meeting there earlier this year.
"The management did indicate they will order new furniture for the lobby and make repairs to the building. We should give them time to see if they follow up on what they told us," said Petrossi.
"I think they should have more security in the building now because they are now accepting more than just elderly tenants. We need to set timelines to make sure the issues are addressed," said Barnes.
"We must remember this entire process wouldn't have started if we hadn't held a meeting there and listened to the tenants," noted commission member David Chester.
The HUD inspection of the Fort Steuben Apartment building was prompted by a request from U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, who asked for a federal investigation into public housing and Section 8 rental housing in Jefferson County following an April meeting with city and county officials.
Johnson announced on Aug. 20 the inspection of the Fort Steuben Apartments had started.
"This physical inspection will specifically seek to address many of the issues brought to my attention by the community regarding safety and security issues relating to these taxpayer subsidized issues," Johnson said in a prepared statement in August.
"This investigation is the first step. We got a commitment from Secretary Donovan to take this issue very seriously. HUD will be looking at the Fort Steuben Apartments as well as the Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority public housing units," Johnson said.
Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci and Crossland sent a letter to the HUD secretary in April citing residents living in fear.
"Residents said the 88-unit apartment building is overrun with criminal activity and that they are living in fear. They said management does little or nothing to screen applicants for housing, offering almost anyone who applies a unit in spite of extensive criminal histories. Our local police department has verified this stating that while many landlords contact them for free assistance regarding tenant criminal background checks, they have never been contacted by Fort Steuben Management," Mucci and Crossland said in their letter.
"The residents stated that security cameras were not working, doors were left unlocked and there were no security guards physically present at the building. Several residents of the building are convicted felons with extensive criminal records well known to the police department," according to Mucci and Crossland's letter.
Johnson said in his August statement the HUD inspectors will be looking at "break-ins, vandalism, drug activity, arrests and auto thefts. The evaluator will also look at the types of security measures utilized at the site, such as tenant patrol, motion sensors and security cameras and will require the (property) owner take corrective actions based on the findings."
"I would like to hold an informational meeting so residents know we listened to them and have taken action regarding their concerns," stated Commission member Mattie Patterson.
In other business, the commission agreed to request that legislation be introduced by City Council tonight to amend sections of the city's fair housing code to reflect changes in the state and federal fair housing laws.
"The state of Ohio has added military status to its protected classes and the federal fair housing laws now include protection for sexual orientation and gender identity persons in HUD-assisted housing," explained Petrossi.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)