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JMHA receives HUD report

September 27, 2012
By DAVE GOSSETT - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development inspector has determined the Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority is taking appropriate measures regarding tenant admissions and lease terminations.

But the report by Jimmy Davis, a public housing revitalization specialist from the HUD Cleveland field office, recommended the JMHA continue to upgrade its security equipment and consider more vigorous enforcement of eviction proceedings "if criminal activity by certain tenants at the Earl Rodgers Plaza continues to disrupt the living environment for other residents."

Davis' findings were included in a three-page letter to the JMHA from Shawn Sweet, director of the Cleveland Office of Public Housing.

Davis also said the JMHA "must implement a systematic tracking system for incidents of criminal activity that will permit the ready identification of security issues and foster a more productive partnership with local law enforcement."

The letter came two months after Davis visited the JMHA offices to review the local policies and procedures and three months after U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, requested a federal investigation into the public housing and Section 8 housing in Jefferson County.

"The report is pretty much what I expected. Our policies and procedures are what they should be. Mr. Davis made some suggestions on security issues. We are actually already working on those issues. We are also working on getting the incident reporting back up and working. It had been reduced because of budget cuts, but we will do what we can to restore it," JMHA Executive Director Joseph Costantini.

According to the letter from Sweet, "Based upon Mr. Davis' review we do not believe that criminal activity at the Earl Rodgers Plaza stems from any deficiencies in JMHA's formally established policies."

Sweet said Davis found the JMHA admissions policies are consistent with HUD requirements.

"JMHA formal lease termination and eviction policies are also consistent with HUD requirements. Although JMHA's formal policies regarding the exclusion and termination of criminal offenders appear to be appropriate, there is cause for concern with respect to the inadequacy of preventative security measures at the Earl Rodgers Plaza. A physical inspection of the property showed that certain areas are situated outside the scope and range of the existing surveillance cameras and equipment. It is possible this concern will be resolved by the expenditure of $70,000 set aside in JMHA's current budget for the acquisition of 14 additional surveillance cameras. If not, JMHA will need to allocate financial resources for other security measures such as hiring additional security officers," noted Sweet in his letter.

Sweet also wrote the JMHA needs to significantly improve its system for documenting, reporting and tracking episodes of criminal activity.

The inspection by Davis was prompted by Johnson's hand-delivered letter in June to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan after Johnson met with city and Jefferson County officials regarding alleged criminal activity in public housing and Section 8 housing units.

Since that meeting JMHA officials have been meeting twice a month with city administration representatives to discuss issues of mutual concern.

In other business Wednesday afternoon, the JMHA board of commissioners held a brief public hearing on the public housing authority's annual plan for 2013 and its five-year plan for 2010-14.

Costantini read a lengthy executive summary noting an aggressive capital improvement plan for public housing properties.

"We made use of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to advance the electrical upgrade of the JFK apartments high rise, replaced the siding on the JFK and Elmer White rowhouse apartments, replaced the roof on the Yorkville townhouse buildings and replaced windows in the JFK apartment building," said Costantini.

There was no public comment during the hearing.

And Ruel Mitchell, vice chairman of the board, said he is convinced there will be a growing need for senior citizen housing "within the next 20 years."

Mitchell attended a public housing fall conference in Columbus and learned Ohio ranks 14th with population of people 65 or older.

"And they told us 10,000 people in America turn age 65 every single day. We need to look to our future," said Mitchell.

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