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Johnson to hear public housing issues

June 8, 2012
By DAVE GOSSETT - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - Future applicants seeking Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority public housing or Section 8 housing in the city must pass an extensive background check by the Steubenville Police Department before they can be admitted as tenants.

The agreement reached Wednesday afternoon during a one-hour executive session between city officials, the JMHA board of commissioners and Jefferson Security representatives was put in writing Thursday in a letter from City Manager Cathy Davison to JMHA board chairman Les Zapor.

The Wednesday meeting and letter are the latest step by officials following a shooting incident in the Earl Rodgers public housing complex in the city's South End on May 21.

Local officials also are scheduled to meet Monday with U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, to discuss the public housing issues in the city.

Johnson spokesman Ben Keeler said the congressman was invited by city officials "to hear their concerns and discuss issues with federal housing in the community."

The meeting between the congressman and elected and appointed officials will come three weeks after a shooting incident at the public housing complex on South Fifth Street and is the latest step in a growing focus on alleged illegal activity in public housing in the community.

According to the agreement reached Wednesday and detailed in Davison's letter, "Jefferson Security that provides services for the housing authority will also provide City Police a daily report of documented activities occurring on public housing properties."

"This documentation will allow the police department to investigate the supposed illegal activities of tenants and their guests so legal proceedings may commence against those individuals suspected of breaking the law," Davison said in her letter.

"I sent this letter to memorialize the conversation between the Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority and the private security company and the city to hold all parties accountable," Davison stated.

JMHA officials already started providing the city with a record of all public housing and Section 8 approved housing properties.

"The police department will review the properties for known police complaints and criminal activities from Jan. 1, 2012, and will provide the information to the housing authority as well as documentation of all criminal activity for any JMHA properties in the future. The city's Utility Department will verify current water service. If there are any addresses on the list that do not have water service, the city will contact JMHA immediately," Davison said in her letter.

The housing authority also agreed to update property signage to indicate the area is under surveillance as well as post no trespassing signs.

Davison also noted JMHA Executive Director Joe Costantini "had a wonderful idea of conducting a complex wide sweep that would verify residents, include inspection of units and verify owners of vehicles."

First Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto, who also serves as the city representative on the JMHA board of commissioners, had publicly called for the special board meeting after the shooting incident on May 21 at the South End public housing apartments.

City Police reports said an SUV pulled up in front of the apartment complex at 9:17 p.m. on May 21 and a man got out and began firing shots at a group of people on a porch in the housing complex. Officers reported a couple men in the group on the porch began to return fire.

Two apartments were hit with bullets and numerous spent shell casings were found on the street and near the porch of the apartment, the police reported.

A statement released by Costantini following the Wednesday meeting said the JMHA will continue to maintain its "one-strike-and-you're-out policy for screening and eviction for criminal activity in public housing, and will continue to work closely with the city police to address drug-related criminal activity in its properties. JMHA residents who have knowledge of any criminal activity are encouraged to report it to the police and to the authority."

"This was a very successful meeting. I got an education. I feel that a lack of communication got us here today," noted board Commissioner David Hindman.

"The talk was good but I want to see some action," added board Commissioner Ruel Mitchell.

City Manager Cathy Davison later described the meeting as "productive."

"We have a positive game plan moving forward. And all of us are collaborative partners as we move forward," Davison said.

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