STEUBENVILLE - U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, has asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate alleged criminal activity in public housing units in Steubenville.
Johnson's letter to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan Tuesday also cited Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority Executive Director Joe 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."
And Johnson asked for Donovan and HUD "to provide Mr. Costantini assistance and a clear path forward if federal red tape is hindering his ability to evict tenants engaged in illegal activities."
According to Johnson, Costantini said several HUD policies, "such as the endless lease" serve as roadblocks to evicting criminals from housing paid for in part by taxpayers.
"He goes on to write that a recent HUD ruling, 'is restricting our ability to use capital fund money for security purposes' and (Costantini) concludes that 'HUD's general attitude is not supportive of drug and crime prevention efforts in public housing,'" said Johnson.
"As disturbing as these letters are, I am most disturbed by a letter that you sent to public housing directors dated June 17, 2011. In the letter you write, 'we would like to remind you of the discretion given to public housing authorities when considering housing people leaving the criminal justice system.' The letter reminds public housing authority directors that there are only two explicit bans on occupancy based on criminal activity. One could interpret this letter as a plea to consider giving preference to those with a criminal record," Johnson wrote to Donovan.
"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.
Johnson was asked by city and Jefferson County officials on June 11 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.
The local elected officials requested the meeting with Johnson following a May 21 shooting incident at the Earl Rodgers public housing complex in the city's South End.
"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 following the 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 at the end of the meeting with city and county officials.
In his letter to the HUD secretary, Johnson noted issues raised by Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci regarding the privately owned Fort Steuben Hotel apartment complex.
"Residents have 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 told Johnson during the June 11 meeting.
"I think that it is critically important that the same compassion and consideration you discuss in your June 17, 2011, letter regarding ex-offenders also be given to the taxpayers and the welfare of their communities," Johnson concluded in his letter to Donovan.